As Panther Island development heats up, the city of Fort Worth and the Tarrant Regional Water District are bringing in new faces to lead the federal project into its next chapter.
The $1.16 billion Central City flood control project, which received $403 million in federal funding last year, will pave the way for riverfront development along the Trinity and create the appearance of a natural island known as Panther Island. This year alone, the water district plans to spend at least $116 million on construction related to the project.
Decades of institutional knowledge left the water district in July with the retirement of Woody Frossard, the water district’s longtime environmental director who doubled as the project manager for Panther Island. His role has now been split into two, with Kate Beck stepping into his Panther Island role and Darrel Andrews taking over as environmental director.
The city is also welcoming a new leader into the fold. Clair Davis, who formerly served as Fort Worth’s floodplain manager, began a new position as the Central City / Panther Island program coordinator in July.
Thanks to her 18-year career working for the city, Beck is no stranger to the Central City/Panther Island project — or to Davis.
The pair, who both began their new roles about six weeks ago, are former colleagues and friends who studied for their Principles and Practice of Engineering exams together. Both have been involved in the project for more than a decade, with Beck previously coordinating Central City activities in her role as the city’s senior capital projects officer.
“A lot of the folks that remain on the project actually have been involved for a long time, maybe in less senior positions,” Beck said. “I’m really happy that Woody and others are still available in the wings to make sure that the transition is smooth.”
Davis’ involvement dates back to 2004. His work as floodplain manager made him the city’s go-to expert on federal permitting and regulations. Developers often don’t know the requirements associated with developing near the Trinity River, Clair said. Now, as senior capital projects officer for the FWLab, he hopes to make building on Panther Island easier while satisfying federal regulations.
“I’ve seen it top to bottom, east to west, all of it,” Davis said. “I want it to go smoothly. Because if it doesn’t go smoothly, everybody will hear about it, and it doesn’t serve anybody.”
As local and federal funding flows into the project, coordination between the city and water district is increasing daily. Staff from the city and water district now meet twice a month to coordinate construction schedules and discuss upcoming development on this island. With federal funding stalled until early 2022, the agencies met about once a month.
“Recently, we recognized that we need to be meeting at least every other week and that’s really about: What’s the construction schedule?” Beck said. “Is it possible two contractors are going to be in the same place at the same time? Who needs to be involved in this design review? It’s really the nuts and bolts about how we stay in lockstep and that their work is coordinated with ours and the U.S. Army Corps.”
While the water district is taking the lead on coordinating flood control elements of the project, Fort Worth is responsible for the economic development strategy for Panther Island. Along with other project partners, the agencies have commissioned a study to map the future of real estate development on the island.
In addition, the city is overseeing the relocation of utilities and stormwater lines so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can dig a 1.5-mile-long bypass channel and reroute part of the Trinity River. To meet the Army Corps’ timeline, the city must complete relocations by the end of next year.
City staff is also preparing to re-route traffic while construction crews raise part of University Drive. Meanwhile, the water district is coordinating the design of the two bypass channels with the Army Corps and working with the city to reimburse the costs of the utility relocations.
The goal of both the city and the water district is to stay ahead of the Army Corps’ schedule to prevent any delays. Meanwhile, the city and water district are already fielding interest from developers seeking to start work on Panther Island.
“The last couple of meetings, we’ve mentioned that, ‘Hey, we’re getting developers coming in looking at specific areas of Panther Island,’” Davis said. “This is real, this is happening, and we need to make sure that we’re really staying on top of it, and making sure that we’re getting our stuff done.”
Construction there will be more complicated than in other parts of the city because every development will have the opportunity to be part of a canal system connecting its development to the other parts of the island.
The canals are a design feature of the island, but it also is an essential piece of stormwater infrastructure. The existing levee system will also make building the canal system more complex. With no bypass channel to drain into, the city needs to rethink where the water in the canals will go, said Dana Burghdoff, the assistant city manager overseeing Central City.
“It’s a real challenge,” Burghdoff said. “Even in an area that’s not affected by the levees, it’s still a question of interim conditions versus ultimate conditions.”
With so many moving pieces left to sort out as the project moves forward, Beck said, one of her major obstacles will be prioritizing where to focus her time and energy. She joked that every task related to Panther Island feels like it could be considered priority No. 1.
Beck also will look to the previous generation of Panther Island leadership for guidance. Frossard is available on an on-call basis to consult on major design decisions, she said.
“I recognize that we’re going to need all of us to be successful,” Beck said. “I think that I’m here to try to facilitate getting across the finish line.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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