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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Water and transparency

Congratulations to Mary Kelleher for her unbelievable election to the Tarrant Regional Water District Board. On election night we all looked up and there came Mary down the home stretch, leading the pack! A miracle! Her unexpected upset victory cheered a lot of folks who believe too much of the board’s attention has been distracted and devoted to matters far afield from water supply and flood control. As one who wishes her well, I would remind her that the board’s mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable, pure and simple: Water! Everything else during your term on the board, Mary, is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their advocacy, but members of the board are charged with bringing us water, with the sure knowledge that there is no substitute for water. If you fail, Fort Worth will cry, “I thirst!” Let others beat the drums for Clear Fork restaurants, drive-in movies, town lake gambling casinos, Venice-like canals and bridges to Never-Never Land, but your duty, even if 4-1, stands out like a 10-fold beacon in the night: Water and flood control. Far-seeing water board members who have gone before have given us Lakes Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain, Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers. For the past decade, a different idea emanating from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., has been calling for the board to pursue economic development. It is almost as if the five members of the board were no more than five marionettes with strings being pulled by an earmarking puppeteer. Under the new doctrine, the first order of business: Change the course of the Trinity River where it now flows around the base of high bluffs and dredge a new channel straight as an arrow across North Fort Worth. What has been the confluence of the West Fork and Clear Fork since the world began now would become a 33-acre town lake in constant need of silt and detritus removal. The cost of the boondoggle would be $909 million, half to be paid by the federal government and half by local governments. Because of the federal $13 trillion national debt, federal funds are not a sure bet. Of the local $455 million, $320 million is supposed to come from a 40-year pie-in-the-sky TIF. There can be no guarantee that any such figure would ever materialize. There is a big IF in TIF. Three years ago the TRWD approved a funding agreement for the Trinity River Vision project that allows it to loan up to $226 million to the project’s TIF until the TIF starts generating revenue. The loan would be repaid by the TIF if everything goes according to plan. With all due respect to my learned friends on the water board, it is not clear to me that this loan is anything but a shell game, a sophisticated money-laundering Enron or Ponzi scheme. Bank robber Willie Sutton was asked by a reporter, “Willie, why do you keep on robbing banks?” Willie’s answer: “That’s where the money is.” The money Willie wanted was in banks. The money coveted by the boondogglers is in the TRWD. Willie got his money the hard, risky way with a gun. The boondogglers get their money the easy, safe way. The TRWD just gave them the key to the vault. The TRWD maintains that the funding for the loan is not coming from taxes, that it is coming from the water district’s natural gas revenues. Hogwash! Gas royalties are just like taxes. They belong to the public. In addition to land purchases acquired with gas royalties and by heartless eminent domain, what else are they being used for? Salaries? Petty cash? When the boondoggle house of card collapses, our Barnett Shale royalties will never be recouped. Gone from here to eternity. They should have been invested in secure guaranteed interest-bearing notes to build Lake Marvin Nichols to join her sister lakes in providing water for our citizens into the distant future.

Don Woodard is a Fort Worth businessman.  

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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