White Settlement bridge

Under construction: The White Settlement Road bridge. (Photo by Paul Harral)

The now infamous Mueller report may get trumped locally. We apparently live in a time of much ado about nothing.

The “comprehensive” review of the controversial Panther Island project is almost finished, we’re told, and the results can be described with the title of a song made famous in 1969 by the sultry vocalist Peggy Lee: Is That All There Is?

“There are no red flags,” Kevin Ruiz, a senior management consultant for Dallas-based consulting firm Riveron told the Trinity River Vision Authority board during a June 5 preview of its findings. “There is nothing wrong going on and there is no sign of malfeasance and no sign of fraud.”

Riveron, it seems, has been looking down the wrong rabbit hole. The problems with the ill-conceived Panther Island project stem from mismanagement, poor planning and lack of oversight by officials at the Tarrant Regional Water District and its junior partner, the TRVA. Nobody said these folks were crooks but plenty of us said they were incompetent, not to mention arrogant and self-serving.

Here’s all you need to know to reach that conclusion. What started out as a simple plan for improved flood control along the Trinity River in Fort Worth – a plan once budgeted at $360 million – has jumped the banks of the Trinity and turned into an economic development boondoggle intended to turn the local riverfront into a high-priced clone of San Antonio’s famed River Walk.

The projected cost has soared to $1.16 billion and the project is no closer to completion than the Trinity River is to the Atlantic Ocean.

We have three partially built bridges semi-hovering over our city streets and they are nowhere near completion. Traffic-jamming detours, particularly in the area around White Settlement Road, have created commercial chaos that threatens the very survival of some businesses in the neighborhood.

A story by Business Press reporter Marice Richter about Riveron’s preview of the Panther Island study said this:

“Ruiz said the review has identified 12 key findings regarding the project, the first being the uncertainty of federal funding, which has to do with the complexity of the project.”

Stop the presses, as the old-time newspaper folks used to say when they latched onto a late-breaking headline. Federal funding for Panther Island is in doubt? For this information, the taxpayers are coughing up $466,222 for Riveron’s “comprehensive” review?

A year’s subscription to the Business Press costs $125 and we’ve been reporting that news for months. In fact, we’ve gone a bit further and told our readers that the budgeteers in Washington have no plans to release the federal money needed to complete the project any time in the foreseeable future.

Here’s a bulletin for you:

“The growth of the project in scope, size and complexity has created a need for greater discipline and structure.”

That’s a quote from Ruiz. Who woulda guessed?

And here’s some more from the story: “Other findings indicate ill-defined roles of the various agencies involved in the project, including the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, the Water District and Trinity River Vision Authority.

“The need for improved management and transparency was also among the findings, as was the need for better and consistent communication, with the focus being on flood control and public safety rather than other factors such as economic development.”

Are we really paying nearly half a million dollars for this blather?

If ever there was proof of the need for nonprofit journalism in this city it can be found in the Panther Island debacle. Good, solid reporting would have told the citizens of Fort Worth about these problems years ago. To that end, we have established a nonprofit for local journalism and it is slowly taking shape.

Give me $250,000 and I will have four reporters and an editor digging ditches around the Panther Island project and unearthing exactly how mismanaged it has been. That’s $216,222 less than Riveron is charging for its comprehensive review.

Riveron says it will offer recommendations for changes and improvements when it presents its final report to the TRVA board July 10, and we can only hope those recommendations provide more value than what we’ve heard so far.

Meanwhile, I’ll make a recommendation and I won’t charge a penny for it: Turn the project back into one of flood control. Find a private developer or several of them to put retail and entertainment shops along the Trinity’s banks, kayaks in the river and balloons in the air, bring in pony rides for the little ones and bands for riverside concerts.

Then let’s figure out a way to get the bridges built and convince the federal government that the $546 million authorized but not appropriated to reroute the river and complete the flood control element of the project would be money well-spent. That’s where the “greater discipline and structure” mentioned by Riveron comes into play: Local officials have to show Washington that they know what they’re doing and not flushing money down the drain.

If that happens, maybe our $466,222 won’t be wasted after all.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

(1) comment

Clyde Picht

Let's face it, the $466,222 was a waste of money. One of the responsibilities of management is to keep the scope and costs contained and to keep the public informed how the money is being spent. If you ordered a new car costing $36,700 and the dealer didn't deliver in that model year and jacked up the cost to $116,000 you'd probably cancel the order and demand an explanation why the cost increase. No wonder government is so expensive.

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