Maybe, just maybe, the cloud over the Panther Island project is lifting.
The Trinity River Vision Authority, the coordinating board overseeing Fort Worth’s long-running flood-control saga, has taken some important steps to improve the project’s efficiency and the public perceptions of a bungled project that can’t get out of its own way.
On Wednesday, the board, whose members represent the various local governments collaborating on the project, decided to create a new project coordinator position to manage efforts among several agencies. The current executive director, J.D. Granger, will focus on working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the project’s priority, building bypass channels to prevent potentially disastrous flooding.
The project needs a new public face. There’s been confusion over its goals, according to the independent review that the agency had done this year. And federal funding to dig the channels to reroute the Trinity has been delayed and perhaps endangered.
The project has been shadowed by concern that secondary elements — entertainment events and economic development — have gotten too much attention.
In a previous meeting, the board decided to hand off those functions to the Tarrant Regional Water District and the city of Fort Worth. Both are better suited for the tasks. It’s not exactly what the independent review by consultant Riveron suggested, but it’s a good step.
Board members also addressed concerns in the report about risk management. Some members have disputed suggestions that risk assessment wasn’t adequately handled, but hiring the new staffer to give it particular attention will boost public confidence.
Some critics no doubt will question why Granger will remain, and he hinted Wednesday that his tenure could soon come to a close. He’s a water district employee; if he can relentlessly focus on flood control, and that helps loosen up federal funding, good.
Because now, getting the Corps to dig the channel is practically the whole ballgame. There is still utility and design work to be done, and bridges to finish. But without federal funding, those bridges will stretch over dry land and significant risk of a catastrophic flood will remain. We’ve said before that addressing the local issues on the project could remove an obvious excuse for federal bureaucrats to hold back on hundreds of millions needed for the project.
We’ve been tough on the river authority board when it delayed release of the outside review, when the review showed the muddled management of the project and when board members bickered over how to fund utility work.
But under the leadership of Tarrant County administrator G.K. Maenius, the board appears to be steadily addressing its issues. Let’s hope the holders of the purse strings in Washington take note.