The diggers lose one Austin We may never know whether the Trinity River canal would have been all its supporters claimed. With the decisive defeat of a Trinity River Authority bond issue and property tax in a 17-county election, the canal appears to have gone at least temporarily dry. Malorities in nine counties, and more than 65 percent of the total vote, opposed both the bonds and the taxing authority. Dallas and Tarrant Counties were strongly negative, with Dallas alone contributing more than half the nays \(80,931 of 137,820 on taxing, 80,489 of 137,006 on San Jacinto, Polk and Chambers Counties also voted no. Kaufman, Navarro, Henderson, Anderson, Freestone, Leon, Trinity and Liberty Counties voted aye. The Trinity Opportunity Development Committee, the folks who brought you the newspaper and television campaign for the canal, estimated they spend $200-225,000 on promotion. Citizens’ Organization for a Sound Trinity, which supplied the shock troops for opposition, claimed expenditures of “a hair over $15,000.” Taking both groups at their respective words, halters came cheaper than diggers by about $1.75 a head \($1.85 for every aye, a little less than a dime for believes the other. COST says TODC spent at least $400,000. TODC says the railroads were financing opposition to the hilt to protect their freight rates. \(To be sure, the Texas Railroad Association did go so far as to devote most of its March 1 issue of Texas Rail-Ways ‘to arguments against the BUT JAY GOULD himself would have been hard-pressed to match the blitz put on by the diggers. Readers of the Dallas papers got an extra Sunday supplement two days before the election. Modestly entitled “THE TRINITY RIVER IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM IT’S FOR THE GOOD OF ALL,” the rotogravure featured suitable-for-framings on the front \(golden wildflowers, a rustic dock, a well-behaved river lock, an inoffensive barge and the cutest fawn you ever did \(“This is your Trinity River. Save it before to vote yes on the inside \(“The multiple-purpose channel will open new vistas of opportunity and economic prosperity as we’ve never known”; “There’s no telling how much fun you’ll three-quarter-page ad the same day, signed by what appeared to be all 63,000 Dallas 16 The Texas Observer, County diggers. The Morning News ran a story about a pro-canal breakfast rally right next to the ad: Gov. Dolph Briscoe boosting the canal. John B. Connally himself weighed in with a last-minute endorsement. This is not to say the diggers were late getting started. They turned out a press release a day for a month, and most of them found their way onto newsprint. Statements on the canal were news. And ad copy as well: as early as Feb. 25 the Trinity River Progress Committee \(George essay called “Trinity River Facts versus Extremists Fiction” \(head extremists being the Sierra Club and “other self-styled responses by opponents of the canal, but for frequency, volume and sensation not to mention paid inches they couldn’t compare. Both Dallas dailies editorialized in favor of the canal \(for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s extra effort, see “Political Times Herald sent John Moulder up to Oklahoma to report for five front-page days on the glowing success of the Arkansas River Canal there. Oklahoma returned the compliment by sending Gov. David Hall down to tell a gathering of diggers, “You have a crusade going that’s going to make you one of the best, most progressive areas in the world.” But Moulder also did a solid research story on the complexities of the taxation planning, and the Times Herals ran it on page one as well, headlining it “Inequities revealed in Trinity taxation plan.” Moulder ‘ discovered that a section of the law creating the TRA specifically, excused railroads and motor carriers from paying property taxes to the regional authority. He also explained that the TRA’s so-called “contract with the people” to assess property at 25 percent of market value was virtually meaningless, since the TRA would have to rely on 17 county tax assessment rates, ranging from 15 to 30 percent. Those assessments could also be changed without TRA concurrence. The Morning News’ best pre-election articles were done by Dorothie Erwin. She wrote one piece on the low viscosity of extant plans for design and engineering. While Erwin’s article could not avoid leaning on what the Corps of Engineers said it could do, she did at least suggest that all was not solved in advance. In another story she tried to “cool some pre-election rhetoric” about the present state of Trinity pollution and to evaluate some of the possible consequences of the canal. She came to a suggestive non-conclusion: “The pollution potential of barge traffic is, for the public, guesswork at this stage like many other aspects of the project for which environmental studies have not been made . available.” HE TEXAS Parks and Wildlife Department, of course, made two studies available. In December, a P&W spokesman told a Corps of Engineers hearing board that the department could not support the project because it would turn the river into “no more than a dredged navigation ditch” and visit “devastation” on the fish and wildlife habitats in the bottornlands. Robert Kemp, director of the Fish and Wildlife Division, told the Observer that the December position statement was made on the basis of 1965 project documents \(as touch with P&W, asking if the department would make a new evaluation of the project, taking into consideration alterations since 1968. A department biologist was posted back to the bottoms Jan. 20. His report was returned in mid-February. The TRA was informed that, given certain assurances of proper design, the department could approve of the project’s impact on fish and wildlife. The assurances \(including preservation of flow in all oxbows and the setting aside of 25,000 acres for wildlife protection and 800 acres for a fish on March 5, Clayton Garrison, executive director of P&W, issued a statement superseding the department’s previous evaluation. The project as revised, he said, could enhance fish resources and would minimize the damage to other wildlife. Kemp said, “I guess it looked like a real coincidence, coming just before the election. But we were in a position where We couldn’t avoid that.” The department could not have refused to update its evaluation, he said. “It’s not our job to oppose or support projects like this. Our job as a state agency is to evaluate their effects on fish and wildlife.” Having “assuranced” P&W into a re-evaluation and having scheduled the election before the deadline for the Corps of Engineer’s environmental impact statement, the diggers went before the voters without an official environmental black mark. Even the Wallisville Dam injunction was directed to the failure to report environmental impact. It was doubt, not conviction, that provided the margin in the balloting. There was just too much promised. The final paragraph of that. extravagant Sunday supplement asked “Who’s against the improvement program?” And answered: “A handful of misguided people whose actions are intended to halt progress and who are gaining extensive press coverage through emotion-packed false claims.” But skepticism is the wrong attitude to encourage when you’re hard-selling taxpayers a “vote to make a dream come true.” J.F.
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