Charles Allen Warned the City its Trinity River "Wave" Might Kill Canoers. He'll Pay for That.
Should have seen this one coming. Hope it's not my own fault.
On Monday I reported here that the city is going to spend some $76,000 to have its screwed-up and unusable fake rapids in the Trinity River digitally modeled by an engineering company that builds sewage treatment plants. That's how they hope to find out what's wrong with the "Dallas Wave," as they call their man-made recreational water feature.
In that piece I very naively suggested the city just persuade Trinity River canoe outfitter Charles Allen to canoe through the existing structure -- a series of dams built to create turbulence for kayakers. If he did it a bunch of times in canoes loaded at different weights, Allen could tell them why the wave is so dangerous and how to fix it.
Not gonna happen. In fact, it's worse than that. The city is doing its best to run Allen out of business.
What I should have seen: Allen is the guy who blew the whistle on the Dallas Wave in the first place. He told me in early May -- and I reported in a column in the Observer -- that the wave feature was brutally dangerous for family canoers. A so-called "safe bypass" for canoes was anything but, Allen explained, and would result in water deaths if the city left it the way it was.
The city took note, it seemed. They opened the water feature to the public with a news conference and fanfare. Then after the cameras went away, they closed it to public use.
Since Monday, when I stupidly suggested the city consult Allen for his expertise, Allen informed me that the city has threatened him with arrest if he brings canoe clients anywhere near the wave feature. See the city's legal threat letter below.
Here is the situation: At the same place where they have built the Dallas Wave, the city has created a parking lot and river access ramps for boats. I went down there and looked last week. Approximately a full city block from the parking, construction crews are working on an elevated walking and biking trail over a disused railroad trestle.
Trinity River guide Charles Allen.
In late May, Allen took a group of school teachers into the site for a canoe trip down the river to the Dallas Audubon Center. The wave site provides the best access to the best part of a state-sponsored "paddling trail" through the Great Trinity Forest.
Allen told me yesterday he saw the construction crews working when he took the group in. Even though their work was not near the place where he put the canoes in, he kept his group inside his van until the work crews took a break, so not to interfere with their movements.
He put the teachers into the river below the wave feature, downriver from it, after it, so they would not go through it. Encouraging amateur canoers to go through the wave or the so-called safe bypass is the last thing he would do, he tells me. He's afraid to put clients in above the feature because he thinks they might be tempted to try it in spite of his warnings.
Allen, in other words, is not in the teacher-drowning business. Drowning teachers would be bad for his business. If anything, Allen is much more committed to the non-drowning of teachers than the city is.
So he popped the canoes in the river. The teachers paddled off, undrowned. For that, the Dallas city attorney is now threatening him with arrest.
I asked Dallas Assistant Director of Park and Recreation Willis Winters yesterday to help me understand the city's actions here. If you transferred this construction project to an area within downtown, for example, it would be a very minor job. I can't imagine the city demanding that an entire city block around it be sealed from traffic and evacuated during the work.
Just put up some sawhorse barricades, you know. People can figure it out.
But Winters told me an entire committee of city staff would have to be convened in order to produce answers to my questions. I am waiting for that response. In general, Winters is a man whose responses are reasonable.
The city is also about to close the other major access to the river, at Trammell Crow Park at the Sylvan crossing, for a year or more for bridge construction. They are in the process, in other words, of sealing off the river entirely from public access while they do photo ops for the media about their $4 million-plus investment in the Dallas Wave.
Allen is a very nice, modest, smart kind of a mountain-man outdoors type, without a political bone in his body. Now it looks like he's got the wrath of City Hall to contend with. I hope it isn't my fault. I get paid to take the wrath of City hall. If I got less wrath from them, I might get a cut in pay.
But Allen is collateral damage. I fear that he's the one their arrows could reach. What a shame. I will let you know when I get my answers, probably next week. Sad and outrageous.