Keep Lane, Leonard for water district

A section of the Integrated Pipeline project is under construction in Navarro County near Corsicana.
A section of the Integrated Pipeline project is under construction in Navarro County near Corsicana. Tarrant Regional Water District

Here on the cusp of West Texas, another disastrous drought is never far away.

In the dry 1950s, business losses amounted to billions in today’s dollars. Economic growth lagged.

So planners bought creek-bottom land southeast of Dallas for two huge lakes, Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers, to pipe Fort Worth’s water.

Now, Tarrant Regional Water District directors must plan for the needs of the next 60 years.

That’s the basic duty of the TRWD board, along with managing the 27 miles of floodways built along the Trinity River after the 1922 and 1949 floods.

And that’s why TRWD is building one of America’s largest water projects: a $2 billion-plus pipeline 8 feet wide, bringing water from Lake Palestine on the Neches River in East Texas to Fort Worth and Dallas.

That, in turn, is why this TRWD election is May 9’s noisiest and messiest.

Two incumbent directors face two challengers funded by the big-spending Dallas owner of an East Texas ranch in the path of the pipeline. A fifth candidate is campaigning as an independent.

Voters may make one or two choices, and the two candidates with the most votes win seats on the five-member board.

Board Secretary Martha “Marty” Leonard, 78, of Westover Hills, and Secretary Pro Tem Jim Lane, 70, of Fort Worth, have both served nine years. They are the board’s most visible community leaders.

Countering the big-dollar financial support for their challengers, Leonard and Lane are backed by a political action committee that had raised almost $500,000 as of early April from well-known Dallas and Fort Worth business leaders including Ed Bass, Ross Perot Jr. and Alice Walton.

A lawyer and 12-year City Council member from north Fort Worth, Lane led development of Alliance Airport and the Historic Stockyards.

Leonard, from a pioneer Fort Worth retailing family, sustains that legacy in both philanthropy and as an operator of golf centers.

Both Lane and Leonard argue that the board is building the pipeline the most efficient way in the best location for both Fort Worth and Dallas, a minority stakeholder in a joint project comparable to DFW Airport.

Lane and Leonard also want to continue work on Panther Island, a different $900-million-plus downtown project repairing worn-out levees while adding retail shops, restaurants and apartments on the river’s north bank.

Challengers Craig Bickley, 38, a Colleyville resident who is eligible to run as a district landowner, and Michele Von Luckner, 46, of east Fort Worth, are campaigning together.

More than 97 percent of their financing, a total of almost $100,000 in the first report April 9, is from Dallas hotel executive Monty Bennett, who is also suing TRWD to redirect the pipeline while campaigning against what he calls a “heavy-handed” agency.

Both Bickley and Von Luckner question project spending and describe TRWD as secretive and crony-riddled.

But neither seems familiar with basic state and regional water plans or prepared for the board’s primary task.

Keith K. Annis, 43, of Fort Worth, a consultant for nonprofits, fears hot years ahead and talks more about water needs. He argues that he can take a fresh look at projects.

All three challengers raise concerns the Editorial Board has raised in past elections about the board’s inhospitable meetings, inaccessible deliberations and poor response to public records requests.

No matter how the election comes out, directors should change board officers.

Starting with a different president, a change of board leadership would go a long way to improve both the tone and direction of meetings and the agency’s image to the public.

With their knowledge of water plans, Lane and Leonard remain the best directors to make future decisions for Fort Worth and TRWD’s suburban stakeholder communities.

With their legacy of community leadership, they are best-positioned to help reshape a more responsive board.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Jim Lane and Martha “Marty” Leonard for the Tarrant Regional Water District board.