Water board, challengers clash over news release

🕐 3 min read

At the 11th hour in the contentious battle for two seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District’s board of directors, the district’s administration issued a news release containing misleading information that opponents claim was politically motivated.

The news release issued Wednesday by district spokesman Chad Lorance announced that the district had been awarded $440 million by the Texas Water Development Board for a $2.3 billion pipeline that will bring more water from East Texas reservoirs to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The city of Dallas is a partner in the pipeline project.

But a news release issued Wednesday by the water development board contradicts that claim.

The state announced the selection of 39 eligible applications, including the TRWD, for the first-ever allocation though the new State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) to meet water needs. A more extensive application for the funding is due June 5, according to the water development news release.

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“After that, applications will undergo the standard, thorough TWDB review process, and each application must be presented to and approved by the Board,” the state news release said.

At Wednesday’s Texas Water Development Board meeting, where the SWIFT applications were approved to move to the next stage of the funding process, several board members, including Chairman Carlos Rubinstein said “what we are doing today does not constitute a commitment” to funding.

Agency spokesman Merry Klonower confirmed Thursday that the funding has not yet been awarded.

However, she said, there is enough money available to fund all 39 projects through the SWIFT program, which was created with a $2 billion appropriation from the Texas Rainy Day Fund.

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The TRWD release contained quotes from board members Marty Leonard and Jim Lane, who are seeking re-election in a heated battle with challengers Craig Bickley, Michele Von Luckner and Keith Annis.

Lorance told Fort Worth Business Press that the decision to quote Lane and Leonard was a matter of convenience.

“As far as Marty and Jim being quoted, Vic (Henderson) and Jack (Stevens) were not available,” Lorance wrote in an email to the Business Press. “In fact, Marty was at the office for a committee meeting when the release was being prepared.”

Maverick board member Mary Kelleher said Lorance did not attempt to contact her.

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“I’m deeply disturbed by the actions of the TRWD in releasing what is clearly a politically motivated press release,” said Kelleher. “ The TRWD’s assertion is factually incorrect and attempts to credit the two board members who are up for re-election with something that simply is not true, and two days before an election at that.

“The very act of quoting board members instead of staff or the general manager strikes me as highly unusual,” Kelleher said.

The heated board race has been dominated by attack ads, mudslinging and extraordinary spending. More than $700,000 has been raised by candidates and political action committees in the race.

One of those committees, Our Water, Our Future, with former Mayor Mike Moncrief as treasurer, has raised more than $500,000 from some of the wealthiest individuals in Fort Worth and Dallas.

Wealthy Dallas businessman Monty Bennett has help bankroll the campaigns of Bickley and Von Luckner, contributing more than $100,000 to the challengers who promise to bring more transparency to the district and end the nepotism and cronyism they say is rampant within the district.

Bennett, who owns hotel properties in Fort Worth, was also involved in the 2013 race that ousted a long-time incumbent and seated Kelleher. His interest in the TRWD is connected to his battle with the district over use of eminent domain to claim a portion of his East Texas ranch for the $2.3 billion East Texas pipeline.

Bennett has sued the district over allegations the water board violated open meeting and records laws in the process of trying to take his land.

Leonard, Lane and their supporters claim that Bennett is trying to seize control of Fort Worth’s water supply, which Bennett has repeatedly denied.

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