MANSFIELD -- One of the most controversial proposals in Mansfield City Council’s recent history nearly came to an early vote Tuesday evening.
Mansfield City Council had its second reading of a measure that would authorize the city to fund engineering and design work for a dry dam along the city’s north side at a cost of about $1.5 million.
At its last meeting, some council members indicated they wanted to wait until next year to vote on the issue. Among them was 3rd Ward representative Jon Van Harlingen, who has consistently voiced concerns about the cost of the overall project.
But Van Harlingen changed his tune slightly Tuesday evening after council member Jason Lawrence suggested moving for an immediate vote. The most outspoken critic of Mansfield’s dry dam proposal said he won’t stand in the way of a vote to move forward. But he also doesn’t want to rush things.
“This has been going on for over 100 years and no administration would ever tackle it because of the cost. But here we are today. We’ve got two weeks, we’re going to have a vote,” Van Harlingen said.
“I am not going to put a motion on the floor a second time to either suspend or postpone,” he added. “I am not going to be the one with the motion on the floor this time. You know where I stand -- I’m very, very, very concerned about the finances and our existing infrastructure.”
Known as the Touby Run Flood Mitigation Hazard Project, the dry dam would alleviate flooding issues in the north end of Mansfield.
Fourth Ward councilman Alomar Davenport reignited the conversation after Tuesday night’s second reading, saying he was “vehemently opposed” to pushing the vote into 2022. He argued that delaying the vote prevents the city’s administration from addressing a public need.
“It's our job to vote on it, to let the administration know whether they can do it or not,” he said. “I'm personally tired of people asking me what we're doing with the dry dam and me having absolutely no clue because I don't know if there's going to be a vote.
“Our democracy is built on a majority rule. If it goes down, it goes down. If it passes, it passes. But we cannot continue to kick down the road what we are supposed to be doing now.”
At-large councilman Phillip Scott reiterated his support for tabling the bill until after the city budget is passed next spring.
“I'm not opposed to the dry dam. I'm just concerned about the money being able to pay for it,” he said.
At-large councilwoman Stephanie Zader disagreed, saying that waiting to develop plans for the project could mean losing out on potential funding opportunities.
“We have talked this thing to death. It's time that we take some action,” she said. “There's infrastructure money being passed down from the federal government right now. If we delay this, that infrastructure money will go out to everybody but us.”
Mayor Tim Theaker noted the city has already missed out on such opportunities.
“The only way that we can apply for this money is to be shovel ready. And to be shovel-ready, you have to do the engineering up front,” he explained. “There was federal money that we could have applied for and we even had the support of legislators in Washington, if we would have been shovel-ready.”
Having the design work done would provide a plan, along with the opportunity to apply for federal funding for the project. It would not obligate the city to build the dam -- that would require an additional vote from council after the plans are completed.
“We are not voting with the $15 million for the dam. We are voting on the $1.5 million to get the design of the dam done,” Davenport explained. “We’re voting on getting this project shovel-ready.”
Fifth Ward councilman Jason Lawrence agreed.
“I’m loving the energy tonight, guys. Can we move this up tonight?” he said. “I think Mrs. Zader said it perfectly. We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. Let’s move forward.”
Lawrence moved to put the motion on the floor for a final vote, but pulled it after Davenport and Zader expressed hesitance.
“While I definitely appreciate Councilman Lawrence’s zest to get this done, I still believe it needs to go through its full reading,” Davenport said. “I do believe there are people who could utilize these additional two weeks to get their point across. This is a very hot topic in Mansfield.”
Davenport said he hoped and expected a vote on the matter on Sept. 21 after three readings, but didn’t support voting on it early.