Ruby is Best for Texas 6th Congressional District

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dallas and Denton drinking water at risk by TxDOT's route choice for FM 2499

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Oct. 7, 2007
(This diary is about TxDOT's selection of the most costly, most environmentally dangerous route for FM2499. FM 2499 runs through Denton County connecting with I35 (prospective route of Trans Texas Corridor. The route selected crosses emergent federal wetlands, three forks of Lake Lewisville which provides drinking water to Dallas and Denton Counties).
Crossposted on Texas Kaos.

Letter from Highland Village Parents Group to Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert:

Letter to Mayor of Dallas
Dear Mr. Leppert:

I am writing this letter to bring to your attention a matter of some grave concern.

Just this week, I contacted the Dallas Water Department to inquire about the extent of their knowledge and participation in matters pertaining to a major Dallas drinking water source. I foolishly presumed that the Water Department would be fully informed of activities that might potentially pollute this source. It came to my attention in 2003 that despite the events of 9/11, and the nation's terrorist concerns, there was very little inter-agency communication on matters that could potentially threaten resources and facilities of our local Cities.

I live in Highland Village, which is situated at the southern and western boundary of Lake Lewisville. This community has had an ongoing battle with regard to the proposed alignment of Section 4 of FM 2499, a 4 - 6 lane thoroughfare that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) plans to run through our 96 percent owner-occupied residential community. Members of our community contacted the City of Dallas at that time, to ask them about their participation in the selection process for the alignment for this road, since Alignment 3, (there were originally 10) through Highland Village, was the only easement that would take this roadway over Lake Lewisville. We assumed the City would be involved since Dallas owns the water rights. They were not! With the huge outcry at the Public Hearings and considerable media coverage at that time, we presumed Dallas would get involved, especially as TxDot went ahead and selected Alternative 3 over other less controversial and less expensive routes for this road. They apparently did not!

This particular alignment, through our unique and massively "hilly" neighborhoods, through wetlands and over the western boundary of Lake Lewisville is very controversial! It is the most disruptive and THE MOST EXPENSIVE of all options which were available. The environmental threat from this road is huge - to human and wildlife (Lake Lewisville already has a high MTBE content according to EPA reports). Yet it somehow 'squeaked' inside the NEPA guidelines and was 'shoehorned' under the radar, to fit the need to move this project along. Leadership of Copper Canyon - the neighboring community which was the site for several of the other alternatives, fought this roadway from the very beginning. Leadership of Highland Village did not! That is what is amounted to. Despite the huge citizen opposition, despite being elevated above grade (up to 15 ft. in places), and less than 10 feet from some homes; despite the necessity to build bridges over emergent wetlands along the western boundary of Lake Lewisville - and potential threat to this drinking water source, the project received an assessment of "no significant impact" to the surrounding community, in late 2005. No formal Environmental Impact Study (EIS) was ever done. The conditions for the lesser study were also less than ideal. No ground assessment was ever done for the emergent wetlands evaluation portion, and all areas of promised mitigation to the community (for what they were worth) cannot be fulfilled because the City of Highland Village does not have authority over this State highway. And yet apparently, through all this, the City of Dallas stayed out of this process.

TxDot is preparing to put this construction project out to bids next month. Highland Village families continue to fight the project and have recently been talking to an environmental attorney, to seek advice on how we should move forward at this time. We had hoped to stop the process before now, or at a minimum force TxDot to complete a proper Environmental Impact Study (EIS). This especially in light of the recent USC Medical study published earlier this year in Lancet, implicating automobile pollution as a major source of loss of lung function in children, and more recently the reports about breast cancer from the same source. This agency appears to be determined to push forward with this project however, even with their recent acknowledgement of a $290 million deficit in state funds. We are therefore trying to get as many people involved as possible, in asking the right questions, so that they might reconsider the repercussions of their choices. I called the Dallas Water Department about 11 days ago to discuss this matter, and was instructed that Jodi Puckett, the Director, was out of the office. Earlier this week I received a call from Rick Galceron(sp?) in Ms. Pucket's stead. Mr. Galceron informed me that he was unaware of any participation or issues with regard to this or any other proposed highway crossing of Lake Lewisville. He told me he would make some calls to find out what he could, and then get back to me. I have heard no more to date, and therefore feel I should bring this matter to you Mr. Leppert, as the newly appointed Mayor of the City of Dallas. I felt you would wish to be informed of this and other matters of such importance. I realize I am a simple "lay-person" in this area, but I find the lack of apparent concern and cooperation in this matter to disturbing to the point of outrageous. We are after all talking about a potential threat to one of the City of Dallas' largest sources of potable water. A lack of inter-agency co-operation regarding a project of this scale, which has the potential of putting massive amounts of toxins into that source, is absurd. Mistakes are made and accidents happen. That no cooperation is believed necessary is shocking! Whatever happened to the requirements for stepped up security on such resources? Given the recent concerns not that long ago following the spill at Lake Tawakoni, one would have thought there would be more involvement and monitoring of these matters. I have to wonder whether the citizens of Dallas are aware of how little oversight is being given to their drinking water source. I would appreciate hearing from you at you earliest convenience in response to my concerns.


Susie Venable
Concerned Parent/Citizen/Homeowner/Taxpayer
of Highland Village, Texas

Susie Venable's letter points out that:
* TxDOT selected the most EXPENSIVE ROUTE

* It will cost two times more to build Section 4 of FM2499 on the selected route than it would on any of the other 7 alternate routes.

*This route is the only one that threatens the drinking water of Dallas and Denton counties.

* The EPA and TxDOT and US Army Corp of Engineers and NCTCOG have all failed to ensure the safety of human beings.

* The environmental assessment is inadequate. They did not assess the impact of the route on human health.

The real "topper", in my estimation, is that TxDOT claims that this route was chosen "because of local demand!" Gee! Over 3000 citizens from a SMALL TOWN showed up at hearings in 2003 to protest this route. The fire marshal closed the meeting and turned hundreds away. TxDOT held the overflow meeting at UNT to have enough space. Susie said when she signed up to speak she was told over 900 people had already signed in before her!

Yet a few elected officials recommended this route! Some of them have been voted out of office, yet this route moves forward and TxDOT is prepared to open bidding for it on Nov. 1st.

This is not how the process should work! This illustrates how broken and unresponsive the system is to citizens' input, wishes, best interest.

I don't know who owns undeveloped land along this path. There are probably some decision makers with conflicts of interest. However, because TxDOT refuses to cooperate with compliance with the Texas Local Government Disclosure laws, it is difficult to determine which local officials who recommended this project will benefit or have close associates who will benefit financially by the selection of this VERY EXPENSIVE boondoggle!

It is appalling that the Dallas City and County Commission is sleeping through this route selection.

They should be PRINCIPALS in this -- following it closely to ensure that proper EIS is performed to protect their valuable drinking water. However, despite citizens attempts to engage them they are still asleep at the wheel.
This route will go up for bid in November! It will cost twice as much for them to build it on route alternate 3 (of 8) than on any of the other seven routes!

Gee. Wonder why they have money woes in the Texas Department of Transportation. They choose routes which are the most environmentally dangerous and double the cost of other alternate routes. They waste money on TV ads trying to get us to "like" toll roads and welcome the Trans Texas Corridor. They spend money on lobbyist to lobby the Federal Government. Gosh. Isn't that illegal. Somewhere in the crevices of my brain it seems there is something tucked away which says that governmental agencies are not supposed to spend tax payer money lobbying Congress. It amazes me that Ric Williamson and Speaker Jim Wright could come from the same place. Jim fought for the Constitution and Williamson runs the Texas Department of Transportation like it is the henchman of Attia the Hun! His rape and burn toll road policy threatens the very fabric of American life. They've told people that there is no way to build roads except tolls so long that some smart people have begun to believe it. Wait! Stop! Think! Examine the facts! There are better ways to do this.

Roads are supposed to serve the needs of people. The people who live near them are the ones who probably should have the greatest interest in them because they should serve their needs more frequently than those who live far away. However, TxDOT pays attention to out of state and out of the country parties more than they listen to the people in the neighborhood of the road project. Many project proceed more as Corporate Workfare project than as projects to serve the true transportation needs of the people of Texas.

That may explain it. Since the goal is probably to benefit contractors more than to serve the transportation needs of the citizens, it would make more sense to select the most costly route. That way there is double the pork to divvie out on this one project. However, they are ruining the integrity of a very nice neighborhood, endangering the health of millions of people in two counties, and endangering the health of over 1000 children who live within 1500 feet of the road.

Oh well. Too sad. No one is answering their phone who is really concerned about the health of people. The EA (done from an airplane) didn't note any endangered species. Wonder if they could see children from the air? They noted that their study did not assess the impact of the road on the health of human beings! Gee! Isn't that great? A handful of elected officials get to request that a route be fast tracked environmentally and the voices of over 3000 citizens is ignored.

What really irkes me is the excuse TxDOT gives for the selection of this route is "citizen demand"! 3000 citizens speaking out against it at public hearings didn't register. They only listened to a handful of elected officials (some of whom have already been voted out of office.)

Folks, we have to wake up and take note of the local races. It is county commissioners and city council members who carry the weight when it comes to recommending or stopping road projects. Toll roads have to be approved by the County Commission. Yet we sleep through these races.

For way too long the Democratic party has said that it was "focusing only on specific upticket races." In many cities and counties in Texas most of the local slots are filled by Republicans who ran unopposed!

Hank Gilbert is right. We have to ask EVERY CANDIDATE what his or her position is on toll roads and eminent domain. We have to challenge every pro toller in our towns and counties. We have to replace those who think it is o.k. for Texans to have to pay for every mile we drive on state highways.

Besides, when a political party fails to elect people to local offices, they create a world where there are no experienced candidates to run for higher offices. It is very difficult to recruit a strong state wide slate if we fail to fill City Commissions and County Commissions and County Judge slots with qualified Democrats.

Every Dallas County Commissioner, ever Dallas City Council Person should be looking into the ramifications of this route selection on the health of citzens of Dallas.

Denton County should too, but they are the ones who asked for it to be fast tracked and for the draft EIS to be set aside in favor of the shorter, less extensive, more inadequate Environmental Assessment.

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