The city of Dallas has a permit problem. Standing Wave (aka the Dallas Wave), the AT&T Trail, and the Joppa Connector Trail are all under scrutiny for compliance problems with permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But I recently discovered that there’s a much larger problem with all this work being done in the Trinity floodplain. The USACE isn’t just looking askance at the individual projects; it has yet to approve the city’s whole damn Balanced Vision Plan, filed back in 2014.
While troubles with Standing Wave are well known, permit problems with the trails — wide, concrete paths in the Great Trinity Forest — have recently surfaced. That’s because Ben Sandifer and Hal Barker, two conservationists among many who keep a close eye on natural resources and construction practices, have made the effort to ask about federal Section 404 permits.
When Barker pressed various city departments about the AT&T Trail and Joppa Connector, the Park and Recreation Department said it had “assumed that appropriate [federal] permit clearances had been obtained,” but that’s not the case. The city is currently working with the Corps to secure those permits. Go to this post and scroll down to the comment that Barker posted yesterday. In it, he explains how difficult it has been to get a straight answer out of the city about what’s going on.
Finding a resolution to this mess may not be as simple as the city thinks. When the Corps met with city management recently to discuss Standing Wave, it made clear that permit issues extend to “other projects.” In an email recap of that meeting, Assistant City Manager Mark McDaniel said the Corps had warned that if “ongoing non-compliance issues” weren’t dealt with immediately, it would jeopardize “all of the city’s permitting.”
It’s still not clear what “all of the city’s permitting” means, and there’s slim chance of getting answers from either the city or the Corps district office on the matter. There is, however, a distinct feeling that the Corps is losing patience.
It’s hard to know whether tensions are the result of the city’s inaction on Standing Wave; a general failure to apply for federal permitting prior to building in a floodplain or wetlands; or if the Corps feels the sting of both, especially in light of the recent approval of a $571.6 million project that it played a major role in securing. The project is a partnership between the Corps and the city known, respectively, as the Modified Dallas Floodway Project and Balanced Vision Plan.
It was approved April 21, 2015, when Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, signed what is called a “record of decision.” Her signature gave the Corps authority to begin pursuit of federal funding for the project, which has a cost-share of 65 percent federal and 35 percent city.
On the same day, Corps staff members met with city officials and consultants to discuss Standing Wave. The Corps asked the city to keep searching for a “final design of the modified bypass channel” and “improvements at the bypass channel exit.”
Since April, the city has provided the Corps with “minimal updates.” And while there’s no hard evidence to link the national event to the local one, there’s a direct correlation between the city’s inaction on Standing Wave since that meeting and the letter received by the city December 15. It’s spelled out in the first paragraph.
The letter has generated a lot of speculation on what type of enforcement actions the Corps might take, and how that might alter permitting. One interpretation is that federal permits for the entire Dallas water system could be imperiled if council members fail to take action on Standing Wave. (In reality, the Council was asked for consensus to set up a fund to pay for proposals.)
It’s more likely that what’s at stake is permitting for the Balanced Vision Plan. While the Modified Dallas Floodway Project has the go-ahead for the congressional budgeting process, the Corps has yet to approve the 2014 permit application for the Balanced Vision Plan. According to the district office, the “USACE-SWF Regulatory Division is waiting for the applicant [city of Dallas] to provide requested additional information to allow review of the project to proceed under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbor Act of 1899 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.”
The entire plan. That’s what at stake here. And the Corps is still waiting for the city to get its act together.