The Power of Lobbying: Trinity Levees Are Unsafe SUPER Safe, the Corps Says Now

Categories: Schutze

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OK, wait, wait, before we start the party, can I ask a couple questions? Could we maybe just try to put ourselves in a global context first?

In July, 2011, the city of Copenhagen was ravaged by the worst flood in recorded history, rated by scientists as a "1,000-year" flood, meaning it could be expected to occur once in 1,000 years.

Yesterday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told us that the Trinity River levee system is safe from being undermined by seepage to the 100,000-year flood level, meaning seepage could be expected to wreck the levees once in 100,000 years.

But as Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs observed (listen to it in BJ Austin's report on KERA ), Dallas, under federal threat of being forced to redraw its whole flood-safety mapping system, is about to embark on a $30 million construction campaign to build concrete walls underground beneath the levees. That is necessary, according to a private engineer and according to the Corps of Engineers up until yesterday, to make the levees safe from under-seepage at the 100-year level.

Let me run that by you one more time. We're about to spend $30 million in tax money building underground walls along the levees because we have been told by our engineer, by the corps and by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that without those walls the levees aren't even safe to the minimum 100-year flood level.

But yesterday in response to questions from Griggs, the corps said on the record that the levees are safe from seepage to the 100,000-year flood level.

What?

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How to assess a levee's safety: Pluck petals while alternately chanting, "They'll drown me. They'll drown me not."
Armed with this stunning news and in no mood to ask questions, Mayor Mike Rawlings is off to the races: "It's not just about safety," he told Austin after the briefing. "There's a lot of plans in place. We have got to get some lakes built down there. We've got to get trails built, and we've got plans for a highway as well."

Lakes. Trails. Highway. Wait.

I'm going to ask the corps for enlightenment this week on how they came to this startling turn-about from their decision in 2009 to rate the Dallas levees as "unacceptable."

That ruling triggered the threat of a "decertification" by FEMA, and that is what put the city under the gun to fix the levees. If FEMA says the levees are no good, everybody who owns property in their path will have to buy flood insurance and property values will plummet, not to mention the prospect of baby carriages and wheelchairs floating off to the Gulf of Mexico one day.

So, uh, please wait again. Now they say they've changed their minds. At least in terms of sand beneath the levees and under-seepage, we have just about the safest levees on earth. But we're still going to spend $30 million on underground walls that we obviously do not need.

As a former Dallas City Councilman, the late Albert Lipscomb, was so fond of saying, something is rotten in Denmark. In trying to figure out from whence that odor may emanate, we might want to take a closer look at the intense lobbying effort of which Dallas has been a part over the last two years, joining hands with our sister in clean government, East St. Louis, to jaw-bone Congress and presumably the White House into getting the corps off our backs on this whole levee safety deal.

You remember how this worked, right? In 2009, federal Judge Stanwood R. Duvall found the corps culpable of "insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness" in its failure to protect New Orleans from disaster in the 2005 Katrina floods. The corps was already under fire from Congress.

Claiming that they had not changed any of their flood safety standards but were merely enforcing them for a change, the corps retested levees all over America and rated many of them unsafe. But when communities like our own found out what the price tag was going to be for fixing the levees, the lobbying effort began -- a well-wired attempt to get the corps to water down its standards.

Apparently Dallas is the first place where the new standards are being unveiled. And here is the hard part for us: It's wonderful news. Party-time news! It's incredibly wonderful. It's so wonderful, it's unbelievable. It's so unbelievable, it makes no sense.

Wait, wait: we have to spend $30 million to be safe from the 100-year-flood? But even without that work we're already safe from the 100,000-year flood? That just makes no sense at all.

And we're getting this from whom? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? The people who have a history of ... what was it again? Insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness?

So the mayor wants to get busy-busy and just get going on our new lakes. Oh, yeah, and a highway. And this is after a national lobbying effort of which we were a part to get the corps to back down from its standards.

Talk about backing down. This is way way down. I mean, this is so much backing down, I think we could name a dance step for it. "The Back-Down." You wave your palms in the air, bend at the waist, stare at your toes and you BACK DOWN, man! Doin' the BACK DOWN!

So I made you wait and wait already. Now I have one question for you. Are you totally ready to do this dance? I mean, hey, if you are, turn on the music, and let's par-TAY. Livin' large, man, makin' the lakes, that's the way. I'll try, I swear. Maybe some of the people from the Observer's youth division can teach me how to wave my palms and walk backwards at the same time.


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11 comments
Annie Smith
Annie Smith

About the levee story, God says "Jim, you are right on and very observant. The powers that be on the Earth are playing games with those they consider the little people... as usual. I like you, Man. Keep up the courage." That's what God says about the article and about you. Just thought I'd let you know... lol. Annie

Danny
Danny

Since this 100,000 year flood has almost certainly not occurred during the time we've been monitoring weather patterns, there's about a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that anyone has any clue of it's probability of actually occurring.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

Logic will not be tolerated on these boards, so don't even bring that crap around anymore, Mister.

Ket
Ket

It has been some time since I've played with these numbers, but my recollection is that "100 year flood" is shorthand for "rain event that has a 1 in 100 chance of happening in any given year". So, that means you have about a 1 in 10 chance of a "100 year flood" in the next decade or so. Not as comforitng as "100 year flood" is it. Expanding that out, a "rain even that has a 1 in 100,000 chance of happening in the next year" is certainly less likely, but still has nothing to do with geological time frames. Just the likelihood of occurance.

Parisrec
Parisrec

scottindallas is actually Buzz Bissinger!

cp
cp

Yes. That is why all this is statistical bullshit jargon anyway. I'm surprised that Jim fell for it. 

Fedmania
Fedmania

Federal rules of civil procedure take care of what you mention, if you have your case in order. 

Danny
Danny

What the heck is a 100,000 year flood?  The thawing of an ice age?

JKR
JKR

Uh, no - apparently you have not tried suing the Corps - it doesn't work - you go bankrupt first. They have taxpayer-funded lawyers.

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

So let me get this straight, the Corps is saying that the levees are safe against seepage for a period of time longer than recorded human history?  Wow!

cp
cp

Makes sense. The 100-year flood is a thousand times more likely to happen than the 100,000-year flood. This is all statistical jargon anyway. I thought you knew how to speak bureaucrat. 

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