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Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Discussion on the Trinity River Vision Project

This piece was originally written for the eChaser, the monthly newsletter of the Fort Worth chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, Public Relations Society of America and International Association of Business Communicators.

The consensus of about 100 people at the Trinity River Vision panel discussion moderated by Society of Professional Journalists Oct. 12 was that the project is one huge, expensive distraction.

Panelists Jim Lane, former City Councilman and Tarrant Regional Water District Board Member, former City Councilman Clyde Picht, Fort Worth certified public accountant Steve Hollern and meteorologist John Basham added their input for the project. Trinity River Vision executive director J.D. Granger and the representative for the city of Fort Worth’s seat remained empty.

“I don’t really have a big for or against The Trinity River Vision downtown other than that it is a distraction, and what I mean by distraction is we in Texas … don’t get enough rainfall,” Basham said.

Tarrant County’s region C does not have enough water and cannot meet its projected needs without substantial help from surrounding areas, he said.

He said Fort Worth should focus their efforts on the water issues like flood control and water supply, not fancy real estate and using people’s tax dollars to complete the project.

Hollern said as a “business man” he’s looked at the numbers of this project a lot. He also said he’s not opposed to the project itself, but is concerned about who is going to pay for it.

“I am concerned with cost, even more so, who pays for that cost?” Hollern said.

In this project, he said he worries citizens will be asked to pick up the bulk of the developing work even though the Trinity River Vision project shared projections that it will pay for itself.

“I have serious doubts about that,” Hollern said.

Eighty-five percent of the money Lane presented on the spreadsheet he handed out in the beginning of the event is not guaranteed and will probably not come through, he said.

“The City of Fort Worth is over $4 to $5 billion dollars in the red,” he said.

Hollern said the debt is not on the books, but is committed for police and firefighter pensions, healthcare for retired individuals, for rebuilding streets and drainage.

According to Lane’s balance sheet, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will provide $446 million dollars for the project, but Hollern said the money hasn’t been “appropriated.”

“The question is is it realistic to expect that money is going to come?” Hollern said.
Picht said he was on the Fort Worth City Council when the project came into place. He wasn’t opposed to the project when he saw the initial numbers, but those have changed since 2004.

“It’s going to be a lot more expensive than we had planned, and it’s not going to be a project I can support,” Picht said. “Our expectations are lower and our costs a lot higher.”

He compared the project to an upside down loan on a car because it already costs more than the city will get back. When it started it was a $360 million project with a billion dollar return.

Nobody could provide a final number for the project, but some panelists projected it to cost more than $1 billion.

“Its just not a good project from the public policy standpoint,” Picht said. “For you as a tax paying public, it’s a loser.”

Lane said that he doesn’t think expenses will fall on taxpayers’ shoulders. He said that if the project can’t fund itself, it’s designed to slow itself down.

He also said he does not think the project will soak up federal dollars.

The debate swung from cost back to current water issues.

“There’s no water!” one lady yelled from the audience.

Basham read from chapter 6 of the 2012 Texas Water Plan and said there isn’t any water promised to Fort Worth for a long time — current water projects on the table are a “pie in the sky.”

 “We don’t have the water, and even though the [TRV] paperwork says they’re good through 2035, that’s based on a couple of assumptions,” Basham said. “One of those assumptions is that we’re not in drought and currently we are in drought.”

He said this focus should be flood and water control and “we’re kind of missing it.”
The whole room clapped and whistled.

Gayle Reaves, moderator and Fort Worth Weekly’s managing editor, read from an audience member's card that there is a concern because the project has no elected members making it too insulated from the public.

“It’s a back room deal!” one man yelled from the audience.

Lane told the audience to talk to their congressmen or congresswomen if they wanted something changed. Another audience member asked how he was supposed to do that if he can’t talk to her son, referring to U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s son, J.D. Granger.

Granger canceled at the last minute when he realized they weren’t going to simply present the project but had to participate in a panel discussion debating policy, Lane said.

Lane said the biggest mistake the city ever made was to showcase a model of the TRV project downtown, because people saw new development on top of their current neighborhoods and businesses. A lot has changed since the original model.

He also said he doesn’t think people have the right facts and he showed up to present the truth.
“We have not done a good job of educating the public,” he said.

Picht said if this plan goes through people won’t be able to drive down the streets but they will have a nice river downtown.

“This project is really moving along. We’re actually moving dirt,” Lane said.

Post on this blog what you think about the TRV project.