Good Houston Chronicle Op-Ed about Court Decision Against Corps

There was an interesting op-ed in the Houston Chronicle today about the recent federal court decision in New Orleans against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.   The authors of Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow argue against so-called “economic development” projects designed at the expense of the environment.  Good advice as the Corps considers the Trinity Toll Road:

At the center of the lawsuit is a shipping channel — the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, or “Mister Go.” New Orleans sits 120 river miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and Mister Go was intended to provide a 75-mile long channel, straight to the Gulf.

Building Mister Go was a massive effort, moving more dirt than did building the Panama Canal. Politicians called it the “key to the region’s economic future,” providing a busy outlet for commerce.

Local critics predicted that, instead, it would be an inlet for marsh-killing salt water….

Unfortunately, while the flood concerns were largely on-target, the economic claims were not. Mister Go never delivered the boon it promised. What it did deliver, with every high tide and every storm, was salt water. That killed plants in formerly healthy wetlands. Once the plants died, soil would slump into the channel, after which we taxpayers would pay to dredge it again….

In hindsight, it all seems implausible. Unfortunately, it’s not just plausible — it’s being repeated all across the country. New developments in California sit below sea level and atop fault lines. In Missouri, strip malls and industrial parks have paved over floodplains. In North Carolina, tax dollars help speculators build expensive homes on fragile barrier islands.

That’s how the Growth Machine works. Ignoring environmental warnings and promising great economic rewards, a small number of speculators push projects that usually don’t help the economy and that, in the most severe cases, can actually destroy lives, costing billions of dollars.

That’s also the real significance of the judge’s decision in New Orleans: When politicians support economic growth at the expense of the environmental systems that protect and support us, we need to know that they may be talking about a kind of growth that we probably can’t afford.

We owe it to ourselves to learn that lesson before we fall for the same empty promises again.

Trinity Toll Road Update

Just a few updates on the Trinity Toll Road, for those playing along at home:

First up, excerpts from Michael Lindenberger’s article in the Dallas Morning News, “U.S. postpones decision on Trinity toll road to evaluate levee problems”:

Problems with the Trinity River levees have prompted the Federal Highway Administration to postpone a decision about where to build the controversial Trinity toll road….The agency will take until April or May reviewing how the levees’ problems could affect the toll road’s cost or environmental impact….On the toll road, [FHWA Texas Division Chief Janice] Brown said, the FHWA will weigh any additional costs associated with putting the road between the levees when it issues its final decision….”Additional costs will be a factor,” Brown said. “But we don’t yet know how much more the road will cost as a result of the levees.” If costs for building the road between the levees become too high, that could prompt the agency to order the route changed or cancel it altogether.

The FHWA’s new study comes after the agency spent years evaluating the toll road’s alternative routes as part of its draft environmental impact statement….

Once the new report is issued, the FHWA will open a period of public comment – a lengthy process that requires the agency and its partners, including the North Texas Tollway Authority, to respond to every comment related to the proposed toll road. Such responses can take months, or longer, depending on their volume and complexity. Continue reading

Last Night’s Trinity Meeting

Last night, the North Texas Tollway Authority and Texas Dept. of Transportation held a “public hearing” on the location for the Trinity Toll Road. I put “public hearing” in quotes because (1) you can’t see me doing air quotes, which are obnoxious anyway, and (2) it was anything but a public hearing.

I won’t use the word “sham” because it’s loaded and a little heavy-handed. But here’s what happened: Continue reading

Trinity Toll Road Public Hearing on Tuesday, May 5

In recent months, several facts have come to light that suggest that Dallas should reconsider its decision to locate the Trinity Toll Road in our city’s floodway.

First, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that Dallas’ levees failed to meet their new, post-Katrina safety standards. The Corps also discovered sand in our levees, which presents a problem for toll road construction. Further, the Corps indicated concerns about allowing the toll road’s large concrete piers to pierce the levees, which could weaken them.

In addition, the North Texas Tollway Authority acknowledged that there is a billion dollar funding gap for the toll road. No additional funding sources have been identified. Continue reading

Corps Report Much More Damning Than City Admits

At yesterday’s briefing on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ report on Dallas’ levees, city staff and the mayor downplayed the gravity of the Corps’ findings that our levees have critical failures and have been cited as “unacceptable.” The consequences of this report are extremely serious, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the city.

Michael Lindenberger at the DMN’s transportation blog has a great run-down of the Corps’ more serious findings and their repercussions moving forward. Continue reading

UPDATED: Corps’ Levee Report Reveals Multiple Failures

The Corps of Engineers just released their report analyzing the safety of Dallas’ levees. The news is not good. See Dallas Morning News Transportation Blog for details: DMN’s Corps to City: Trinity Levees failures are extreme, could prompt FEMA action

We must fix our levees immediately. We cannot let the toll road continue to delay our levee improvements.

UPDATE: Here is a link to part of the Corps’ report.

We Must Fix Our Levees NOW

I was very concerned to see that the U.S. Corps of Engineers has deemed the safety of Dallas’ levees “unacceptable.” The Corps revised their safety standards after the Katrina tragedy, and re-evaluated Dallas’ levees under this new system. They announced the results of their review yesterday.

I was surprised that our levees failed to meet the new standards since the Mayor just got back from lobbying our Congressional delegation to pressure the Corps into speeding up their safety evaluation of the Trinity toll road, which is to be built within the levees. If you’ve been following this issue, you know that no major road like this has ever been built within a levee system. Knowing that our levees do not meet the Corps’ new safety standards, I think it’s irresponsible to lobby the Corps to speed up what should be a thoughtful, deliberate safety review of an untested engineering design like the toll road. Rushing to pour millions of tons of concrete into an already unsafe levee system is a dangerous plan that could have dire consequences. Continue reading