Cowabungle: Corps of Engineers Says Don't Blame Them for That Effed-Up Dallas Wave

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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I have been dealing with both the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in recent weeks seeking answers to questions about the "Dallas Wave" or "Standing Wave" man-made rapids that the city has installed in the Trinity River just downriver from downtown. It was intended to be a recreational attraction for a certain type of very specialized kayaking.

Last May, at just about the time the city had planned to open the Dallas Wave to the public, the city instead barred the public from using it because of some serious flaws that made it too dangerous. A side channel, intended to function as a safe passage for canoeists and other boaters, turned out to be too turbulent.

The thing also has soared in cost, from an original price of $1.5 million quoted to the city council by city staff at the outset several years ago to an amount of almost $4.3 million now, and that is before the cost of fixing the thing so it won't kill canoeists.

Some Friends of Unfair Park have been wondering why the city has to pay these additional costs if the original design was bad. Why isn't the designer responsible? City council member Angela Hunt has raised the same question with City Manager Mary Suhm. See her memo below.

The design thing turns out to be a more complicated issue than you might think. I'm going to talk about it in my column in next week's paper. I'm not even sure the thing was built according to a design.

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Are we having fun yet?
In the meantime, I also had a number of questions for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the "floodway" portion of the river between the levees. The wave is right at the bottom (downriver end) of the levee system.

I wondered how the Dallas Wave got a corps permit in the first place, especially without any environmental impact study, since it's really a dam. It backs up the river for several miles, permanently flooding riparian wildlife areas that normally have wet and dry cycles.

Turns out it was easy. The corps simply ruled that the wave fell under the rubric of something called a "nationwide permit 42 for recreational facilities," meaning the wave did not need its own separate permit or environmental impact study. All the corps had to do was write a letter of permission.

I still have issues with that deal. If you look at the language for this type of national permit, it says: "No activity may cause more than a minimal adverse effect on navigation."

Right now, the Dallas Wave is an absolute bar and block to navigation of the river. The city has banned all navigation through it and has threatened to arrest at least one outfitter who was merely carrying canoes past it.

Yesterday evening the corps sent me a complete list of written answers that were responsive to my questions. But I do smell a bit of a dodge in one answer.

I asked: "The city has barred all public access to the river from the standing wave site or its environs and is about to bar access at the Sylvan River boat ramp for more than a year. What are the terms and conditions by which the city may bar access to a navigable river?"

The corps answered: "The City of Dallas should be contacted regarding restricted access to the Trinity River, as this is outside the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers."

I just don't think so. The terms of the nationwide permit seem clear. Impediments to navigation fall under the purview of the corps.

Charles Allen, the outfitter whom the city is now threatening to arrest, is trying to find a way to encourage the corps to take a more activist part in this problem. His main point is that the city should not be allowed to screw up the river for the vast majority of people who use it recreationally -- canoers -- in order to provide some fun for a tiny minority of people who engage in what's called "playboat" kayaking.

Playboats are little snub-nosed kayaks designed for doing tricks in white water, as opposed to paddling down a long length of river. There's nothing wrong with playboating, and it's a solid good for the river for anybody at all to get out there and use it for any recreational purpose. The more recreational use that can be documented, the stiffer the environmental standards the state must enforce on the river.

But think about putting this shoe on another foot. What if some private developer owned some riverbank land and wanted to build a water park of some sort that involved construction out in the river. Do we think for a minute that a private party would be able to bar navigation of the river for a year or more and then, even when construction was complete, render navigation considerably more difficult for people who were not the developer's clients?

The corps speaks bureaucratese. Sometimes it takes a translator to know what they really mean. If you look at their Answer No. 4 below, they may actually be hinting that they intend to take a more active role in getting this thing right. Or not. It's kind of like consulting the Ouija Board sometimes.

And then there is the money and design question. I said it was complicated. But it's still a good question. This thing didn't build itself. Somehow it's always easier to paper over a problem with tax money than it would be with private money. Back to my question about a private developer: You can damn well bet that any private party that had this kind of problem with a design would be thinking hard about how to get his money back.

If you're a real glutton for wonk-punishment or if you just can't get to sleep, you can read the corps' full responses on the next page. If you do, you will see that I misunderstood the type of modeling that the city is paying for the wave. I thought it would be a digital model. It's a physical model. Fortunately, this is the first mistake I have ever made about anything in my entire life including even neckties.



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41 comments
Wylie H.
Wylie H.

How come Mary Suhm didn't need to get approval from anyone when the cost of this idiotic project ended up being 4 times what she told Council it was going to cost?

richard schumacher
richard schumacher

I'd bet that a rented backhoe could rip that sucker out in a few hours.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

I'm not in the loop here I'm sure but did Charles Allen voice his opposition to this project at the outset? Or only now that it's become a "mess"?

I understand the confrontational stance the question presents, but I'm truly just asking a question for the sake of better understanding of the development of the project.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Harold Hill wants to thank the city of Dallas for buying the Standing Wave.

He will be back next year with Ski Slope Ready Gondola Ride.That is going to be built at the Youndblood Land fill.

Whodunnit
Whodunnit

I'm guessing that City Council had to approve the original $1.5 Million contract, and also approved all of the "change orders" that have increased the cost to over $4 Million. It's a little late for City Council members to start asking questions. The milk has already been spilled.

BCulbreath
BCulbreath

Do you know how many people in Dallas are involved in this sport? Is it enough to spend 4 million  tax dollars ? The big joke the Thing is Not Correct. What the hell is wrong with local government in this City? Does any one know what the Hell they are doing any more?

JonathanG
JonathanG

"There's nothing wrong with playboating, and it's a solid good for the river for anybody at all to get out there and use it for any recreational purpose. The more recreational use that can be documented, the stiffer the environmental standards the state must enforce on the river."Thank you Jim for acknowledging that getting people out on the water, even if it means digging around and pouring concrete and whatever else it takes, is good for the people of Dallas and it's surrounding cities. I sincerely believe that ALL of the blame for the cost overruns, delays, and problems with construction lay solely on the shoulders of the nincompoops who we elect to govern the City of Dallas. They don't know what they are doing when it comes to building a standing wave. They got the wrong consultants and overpaid them, then poorly executed the construction, and are now handling the whole situation very poorly. Nincompoops may be too weak an adjective.

Keep up the good fight Jim, and when this thing gets done we should go for a paddle on the river together.

Hannibal Lecter
Hannibal Lecter

The Trinity is not considered a navigable river. Per 33 CFR Part 329, the general definition is "Navigable waters of the United States are those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce." (There's more to it than that. See http://www.sac.usace.army.mil/... if you want details).

Jim, to say "the Dallas Wave is an absolute bar and block to navigation of the river" is just plain silly, as no one has navigated the river since 1893. Canoeing/kayaking is a recreational activity, not "navigation".  Are you navigating when you ride the swan paddle boats at Fair Park?

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

Because most of the money for the project came from private grants. Hoblitzelle (sp?) Foundation I believe.

JimS
JimS

I believe that Charles was positive about the project initially, as he is about most things, because he thought it would increase recreational use of and interest in the river. His problems are not with the idea but the execution. And let me be clear about one thing: he did not volunteeer for the role of critic-in-chief here. I pretty much volinteered him by calling him up and quoting him. That's why I feel so badly about the city singling him out for vengeance. A little bit of guilty complex on my part? No. A whole lot of gult complex. It's kind of like this guy warns you about the knock on the door coming to your house later that night; you get out; he gets hauled down to the barracks for "questioning."

scottindallas
scottindallas

I don't really get your point, as the project shouldn't have affected Charles Allen negatively at all.  If the standing wave was built, and the by-pass was properly constructed, then I can imagine that more canoeists would be enjoying the river.  But, as built, this is a fiasco.  So again, I don't really see where you would expect CA to be prescient, and "know" that the by-pass would be screwed up--short of being blindly cynical about anything the city touches.

JimS
JimS

...but the whole thing actually was the brainstorm of vacationing Park Cities big-hairs who saw one like it from the back seat of an airport limo once in Colorado and said, "Oh, let's get one those to go with the bridge." 

replay
replay

It makes you wonder whether the City EVER knew what the Hell it was doing. 

Julia Barton
Julia Barton

In this case, no, because the city has been Dr. Frankenstein to the Trinity since the late 1920s, when it dug the river a new channel and walled it away, taking all the drained floodplains and making them Real Estate. Since then, the river has been this phantom limb.Want to use it for something, but the real thing is not there anymore.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

No.   It is incompetent (council and staff). The developer should foot the bill for this over budgeted  mess not the tax payers.   Those in the city who have had a hand in this should be fired.

JimS
JimS

JonathonG: it's funny how the natural resource food chain works, isn't it? I saw it in Michigan as a young reporter. Some of the Johnnie-come-laters to environmentalism viewed hunters as their foes. They didn't understand that the only reason a lot of those wetlands even still existed was due to the early work of hunter groups like Ducks Unlimited. In general, it always seems to me that getting people out there in the first place is the big challenge. Once they love it, they'll fight for it. The concept of the standing wave may or may not be OK. Now I'm not sure if the Trinity, an alluvial river on a flat floodplain, is capable of supporting the kind of whitewater stuff that the Boulder company has built in rocky steep-falling rivers elsewhere. But I could be full of shit on that. That's for knowledgeable people to know. I know this: the original pioneer here, the guy who got people to canoe the river -- to even think of it as a river when most people still thought it was a sewer -- is Charles Allen. Instead of giving him the back of the hand, City Hall should be bending over backwards to keep him going. He's the real cultural political resource in this picture --the gem. 

GP Dude
GP Dude

The City might have contracted with Willis to get this done right. Would have cost more and would have been paying a toll to JWP to go down the Trinity, but it would be operational by now.

Paul
Paul

Hate to burst your bubble but the Trinity River was declared a navigable river up to and including the railroad bridge (T&P originally) ... Lakes Grapevine and Lewisville were constructed  to regulate the river level in the Trinity once the lock and dam systems were in place.  1/3 of the storage pool in Lake Grapevine is restricted to navigation purposes only.  There are many old lock and dam structures on the Trinity one of which is in SE Dallas County.  This is also why the IH20 bridge over the Trinity is as high as it is.

As your reference states, once a river is declared navigable it cannot be rescinded.

JimS
JimS

No, sorry, Iamron, we have met the sucker, and the sucker is us. The taxpayers. This is all tax money. It comes straight from city bond funds. So we are paying the $4.3 million, and then we are also paying interest on the $4.3 million. This project produces no revenue. There is no off-set. It comes straight out of our pockets. Even if this thing had been done right and it worked, you'd have to wonder what message it sends. The Trinity River project bond election passed on black votes. They were sold votes, but they were still southern Dallas black votes. So the city winds up shutting down swimming pools all over over poor neighborhoods, but it can spend $4.3 million so 30 to 50 elite kayakers can have fun in Southern Dallas  in the river. I believe this is called, "Bridging the Gap." By the way, this is not me blaming white folks. The blame for this goes straight to people like Dwaine Caraway and before him his wife, Barbara, who have been big boosters of the Trinity River project, in spite of the fact that it screws their own constituents. At a certain point if you have the right to vote and the right to elect your own representatives, it's your own job to elect  people who won't sell you down the Trinity River for peanuts. But then there's the fact that the project itself is such an incredible mess and a failure. City Hall can't even screw people the right way.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

Everything that's been written by JS and/or Wilonsky (on one occasion I think) has referenced Charles Allen as believing that the project was a crapshoot to begin with because it interrupts the natural river flow. It had nothing to do with a mis-handled bypass channel. It was the project to begin with. My question is: If he's the almighty powerful Trinity River God then why didn't he get up and say stop before it was even designed?

JimS
JimS

Julia Barton, as usual, has the right word for it. Phantom limb, as in, "I keep wantin' to scratch that sucker, but it's been gone these 60 years or better."

replay
replay

Over at City Hall, they're trying to figure out "who had a hand in this", but everyone is pointing at someone else.

replay
replay

Yes, but we would never be able to afford Willis' monthly maintenance fees.......

JimS
JimS

Hey, Paul. You sound like you know some stuff. Keep it comin'.

JimS
JimS

Designer is Garey Lacy, Recreation Engneering and Planning, Boulder, Co.http://www.wwparks.com/resume_...My understanding is that peple in this industry still have hopes for contract to build off-channel fake kayak fun-park at this site, in which case nobody in the industry, including Lacy,  will be eager to say bad things about the city.

Whodunnit
Whodunnit

Then, the question becomes was it built the way it was designed, or did the City authorize some changes in the field that altered the design. Or, another possibility. Ark was the low, responsible bidder (from what you say) but the City wanted to spend less money than the bid amount. So, what ensues is something called "Value Engineering" where the City and Contractor start exploring different means and methods to accomplish the objective of the design, but at a less expensive price. The alarming silence from the designer is deafening; they probably know exactly where this went wrong.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

It's not as easy as having a public excel format type database. But if you want to spend the time, you can review the council agenda and addendum every couple of weeks to see the bid awards.

@340edad879b084aa491d534d37775b2e:disqus  I read the council agenda for November 9, 2009 and they awarded the contract based off of a public bid process and Ark Contracting won. I don't see how they aren't qualified????? It seems to be a shape problem and not a construction problem. In an earlier post on this subject someone had noted that the City had an inspector out there directing the contractor to place boulders all over the structures to make it look more natural - I confirmed the add order with the council agenda from last year (nearly $190,000 addition). There's a boulder in the middle of the lower bypass right now. How do we know that isn't the problem with the waves??? If that was the case then it wouldn't be contractors incompetence, it would be city employees doing engineering and architecture in the field. And THEN wasting my tax money in the process.

Whodunnit
Whodunnit

How much do you wanna bet it'll cost more than $7 Million by the time they end up fixing it? If the City had conducted a good solid public bid, with qualified Contractors, they would have received the real cost a long time ago, instead of nickles and dimes........in the end, it'll cost even more. Wait and see.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

Okay. I get you now. So where do you stand on the trail system? It's costing considerably more money than the waves. Hell, the Trestle Trail that crosses over it costs more than the waves do. They produce no revenue at all - so how do we justify the existence of the trail system?

I did a quick search, and yes the Hoblitzelle Foundation did give a $2 Million grant to the Moore Park project (where the waves are), but it's for the Moore Park Gateway facilities outlined here:

http://brougham.websitewelcome...

You have to scroll down a bit to find the Moore Park Gateway project. What I see there is a significant opportunity for revenue - and the addition of the waves can only help. They could have competitions there, host the events at the gateway center right next door, have vendors, charge admissions, and make it an all-day affair. I get what you're saying, but I think that if you look at it in the context of the entire Moore Park Gateway project it seems to make a tiny bit more sense. All park and rec projects are a gamble, because it's quite possible that not even one person steps foot in these facilities for their entire existence - but you kinda have to take a chance, no? I tend to look at it more like a normal rec center and the waves are the basketball court. An expensive, and significantly more dangerous basketball court - but more or less just another recreational feature of a public facility.

Wait....... unless we hate rec centers too....... oh damn..........my head exploded.

It also appears that approximately $330,000 of the Standing Wave money was used to build erosion control structures at Tenison Park Golf Course. If you want to take a second and look at the bright side... If Rebcon had won the bid back in 2009, the waves would have cost over $7 Million. $4 Million in our pockets!!!!!!!

Heavy Metal Church Lady
Heavy Metal Church Lady

You've mentioned the difficulty in getting straight answers for expenditures. I am having a hard time understanding why this money is not accounted for publicly; why there is not an online data base that people can access.

I want to know where all this money is going and how it is being spent and who the money-makers are in the scheme of things (i.e. transparency and accountability). It seems to me that the additional money thrown at this project--and all others concocted under the rubric of the Trinity River Corridor Project--provides cover and secrecy when what is needed is scrutiny in the full light of day.

Is that so much to ask?

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

I asked the question because I didn't know. JS clarified for me just fine exactly how CA has gotten involved. I wanted to know if Charles was actually opposed at the outset, or if this is band-wagoning on a project with problems. There was an article done by WFAA a couple of weeks ago, and in the comments section a very impassioned person ripped the newsman for not reporting any of the positive things that were said during the on-site interviews. Apparently somebody, sang nothing but praise about the project and his interview was disregarded completely in the "report".

BTW, I absolutely have been to many, many council meetings, and I read nearly every page of the council agenda and addendum for every other Wednesday. Quit being so defensive.

scottindallas
scottindallas

well your moniker is well chosen.  Your arguing that "Charles Allen as believing that the project was a crapshoot to begin with."  and that he didn't condemn it before it was begun?  I don't get you, am I missing an attempt at irony?

Have you ever been to a city council meeting?  Have you ever heard ANY reporting, or a scintilla of attention given to anyone who speaks up at the beginning of the meetings?  Everyone ignores the impassioned speeches that commence every Wed meeting.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

The same stuff that resulted in unneeded street repairs (on the street I live) while one street over the pot holes and conditions are truly worthy of their attention.   It just points out that the city can not do ANYTING right.   Those people involved should be fired (along with their bosses).

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

In further reading from the USACE's website.....

The City of Dallas was constructed in 1856 and began impounding taxpayer money in 1857. The City Council was constructed to increase flooding of taxpayer dollars down the newly constructed wastewater management system in 1858.

Paul
Paul

From the USACE's website for the history of Lake Grapevine:

Grapevine Lake is located near the community of Grapevine, Texas and located in the heart of the metroplex in Denton County.  Grapevine Dam is located on Denton Creek, a tributary of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, which was impounded in 1952.’On March 2nd, 1945, the U.S. Congress approved the River & Harbors Act of 1945 which, among many projects, provided for the construction of Benbrook Lake, Grapevine Lake, Lavon Lake and Ray Roberts Lake, as well as modifications to the existing Garza Dam for the construction of Lewisville Lake. All the projects were for the purposes of both flood control and navigation. These lakes became part of an extensive floodway system that is operated in a coordinated manner to minimize flooding along the Trinity river floodplain.[1] The Grapevine Dam and Reservoir project, as it was originally known, was initiated in January 1948. Located on Denton Creek, a tributary of the Elm Fork of the Trinity river, the project spans both Tarrant County and Denton County. In this area immediately north of the City of Grapevine, the Corps of Engineers obtained approximately 15,700 acres (63.5 km²) of land and placed easements on another 2,200 acres (8.9 km²) to be flooded by the new reservoir. The project was completed in June 1952, and impounding of water began July 3, 1952.[2]

Paul
Paul

Hi JimS ... thank you for the compliment ... One of the reasons that the Trinity was never developed for navigation (although many attempts were made) is that there is a very wide swing in flowrates.  Dallas is located where it is because it was a natural ford of the Trinity River.  Prior to upstream development (and the relocation of the Trinity in the 20's), The Trinity was very easy to cross during low flow periods.  For the history buffs, go read the the historical marker at Riverside Blvd and California Crossing ... you will find out why California Crossing is called California Crossing ...

I suppose that the reason why the Corp may say that it does not affect navigation is that they may be looking at the lock and dam system where this "water feature" would be under at least 15 ft of water ...

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