High school student on path to get funding, works to clear silt, debris from water
By Aaron Greenberg
Special to the TJP
DALLAS — Henry Roseman sits at the controls of a small boat on Bachman Lake. He slows the boat down, and turns off the motor. He gets up and grabs an oar, guiding the boat for a moment. Then he stands straight up, lifts the oar so that it is completely vertical, and lowers it into the water.
At least, he tries to. It only goes down about half a foot, meeting muck and debris.
“Welcome to Bachman Island, population 0,” Roseman said.
The high school student is in the middle of the body of water, yet a number of sizable tree branches are sticking out of the water within a few feet of him. From this vantage point, it quickly becomes clear that a vast swath of Bachman Lake hardly covers sediment and whatever else has settled there.
It’s a familiar routine for Roseman, who regularly brings media members out to “the island,” and constantly contacts government officials in an effort to fix the problem. He notes many boats have been damaged, and the island could pose a life-threatening risk to those unfamiliar with it.
Supporting the effort
It’s hardly a one-man show — Roseman has the full support of the Dallas Rowing Club — but the senior at Dallas ISD’s School for the Talented and Gifted has clearly taken the reins of the effort. The island developed as a result of a storm in May 2015, and has continued growing since. Orange buoys put up by the club mark the boundaries, about the length of a football field and 20-30 feet wide.
Club President Richard Misdom says many members have called for action, especially since their regatta had to be canceled, but Henry took the next step.
“He wasn’t satisfied just telling us,” Misdom said. “He doesn’t want to just sit on the sidelines; he wants to be involved.”
Roseman said that as a student he has more time than members with careers, but they have helped set up meetings a high schooler can’t.
That’s not all of it, though. Roseman paraphrases Hillel’s saying in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot.
“It’s a pretty strong tikkun olam thing,” Roseman says. “I can fix it. If not me, who? And why not? If not now, when? It’s only getting worse.”
He and his brother Robert are fourth-generation members of Temple Emanu-El, and his family has always been very involved in Jewish circles. His grandparents are Rabbi Kenneth (who served at Temple Shalom) and Phyllis Roseman and Lynn and Sharan Goldstein. Parents Amy and Michael are also extremely proud of what Henry is doing.
“I love our family dinners, and looking across the table, and looking next to me to think what our boys are doing to give back to the community,” said Amy Roseman. “Honestly, it is the ultimate compliment to see my kids get involved in the Jewish community and Dallas community. It just warms my heart.”
Henry has become a song leader at Emanu-El and was on the search committee that brought in Cantor Vicky Glikin. And while he calls the Bachman Lake effort his first real activism, it stems in part from lessons learned when, as a sophomore, he took part in L’Taken, a social justice seminar and lobbying weekend in Washington.
Roseman and his fellow students met with staffers for Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and met Rep. Pete Sessions. He learned the power of reaching out to officials and their staff. That’s become helpful, as there are multiple jurisdictions at the city and agency level for Bachman Lake.
“They probably think this high school kid is working on a project, ‘I’ll give him 15 minutes and help someone with their school project,’ not realizing they’re dealing with someone who has devoted a lot of time and done extensive research,” Amy Roseman said.
Henry has spent hours digging through materials at the library, plus the 6,000 photos and 22 gigs of data he received as part of an open records request about the 2015 storm.
“When something piques his interest, he wants to learn as much as possible,” Amy Roseman said. “He’s been that way since he was tiny. So it’s not totally out of character for him to take this to the media and get passionate about it.”
The lake is in State Rep. Rafael Anchia’s district, but Roseman says he’s been able to get help from his own rep, Jason Villalba. Three city councilors represent portions of the lake — Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo, Jennifer Staubach Gates and Adam Medrano.
“Luckily, Mayor Pro Tem Alonzo is taking it on as though it is hers,” Roseman said.
Through a quirk of fate, 10 feet of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s congressional district was swapped with 10 feet in the middle of the lake — part of the island. Roseman said her office was more responsive after this was pointed out.
Johnson is on the aviation subcommittee, and since the lake is so close to Love Field, any effect on air travel could cause the FAA to help pay to clean it up. Roseman’s research into bird strikes shows that they went up drastically in the year after the storm, from 80 to 122. He believes the island plays into that, as birds can be seen standing in the water with easy pickings.
“The birds being there isn’t a problem except for the metal birds. It turns out birds and airplanes don’t play so well together,” Roseman said.
Red tape surfaces
But the lake is under the direct authority of the Trinity Watershed Management, which hasn’t been as helpful as Roseman would like. Several other agencies also have a say, from parks to utilities to the EPA.
The Bachman Lake Annual Sprint Trials were the only regatta in Dallas, drawing 18 clubs and 271 entries in 2015. Roseman estimated that $9,350 in tax revenue is lost per year. Hundreds of people use the lake to row, kayak or canoe each weekend.
The last dredging cost $5.5 million. Roseman estimates it would be about $13 million now, with the cost increasing each year. The last study was done shortly before the 2015 storm, so Roseman said it was outdated as soon as it was released, and despite promises of a new study, he hasn’t seen action.
And so Roseman is bringing attention to the island and debris, especially near the overpasses. For rowers like him, it’s a lurking danger. For those who are less familiar with the lake, it’s a potential death trap.
“I’ve seen everything from adult-sized waterwings to air mattresses. If it floats, they are out there,” he says. “It could end really badly for a significant number of people. We don’t want for someone to die.”
Roseman said the consistency of the island is similar to compost, and anyone who tries to stand on it will sink like in quicksand.
“You could easily sink so your mouth and nose are underwater. Can you swim through compost?”
There is also the ever-changing nature of the island. Each time he’s gone out, Roseman has encountered new contours and problems.
“Tomorrow morning or afternoon, it’ll be a totally different underwater topography,” Roseman said.
His biggest success so far came after considerable back and forth with City Hall. A boom with a hole about 2 feet wide — thanks to a Christmas tree — was repaired. On the same trip, debris was cleared away near one of the overpasses. But as time goes by, the debris will continue to gather, building up the island.
This has happened before. It was so bad at one time that a picnic table was placed in the middle of the lake. After the dredging in 2002, there was a minimum depth of 8 feet. Now it’s 6 inches.
Roseman has been rowing for five years, starting in the eighth grade. He’s been with the rowing club since spring 2013, and Bachman is the only home base he’s ever had.
“It was pristine, it was beautiful,” he said.
Now, not so much. About a month ago, Misdom saw a fire department rescue in progress. A vehicle had gone into the water, and the rescuers didn’t realize how little room they had to maneuver their boat.
“He probably needs 3 feet, 2 feet of water,” Misdom said. “That’s just not there. He had to push and pull to get loose. Fortunately, there was nobody in that car. It’s going to be increasingly more difficult for them to get those size boats through the lake.”
Henry Roseman sees three possible scenarios. One, it gets fixed now. Two, officials procrastinate and pay more. Three, they let it be, taking Bachman Lake off the map.
“Let the lake fill up, and take a Sharpie marker and make it Bachman Park,” Roseman said.