Why New Fort Worth City Council Chambers Won’t Open Until 2024

Developers now expect construction on the new Fort Worth City Council chambers to be completed in early 2024 after a delay in the permitting process pushed back construction.

Along with refurbishing the former Pier 1 building at 100 Energy Way to house several city departments, the city is building new council chambers and a new parking lot adjacent to the tower.

The city originally planned to open the new business building later this year. But a federal water conduit built in the 1940s was discovered at the site after planning had already begun, said Tanyan Farley, vice president of client solutions at the Athenian Group, which manages the project.

A federal flood refers to land adjacent to a river that must be reserved for the release of flood waters in the event that the water level becomes too high during rain.

Project leaders had to get permission from the US Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with construction. Simultaneously, Farley and his team must plan for a future flood created by the Central City Flood Project, better known as Panther’s Island, that will reroute the Trinity River.

“Here we are developing the worst-case scenario, and we have to do that with both scenarios,” Farley said.

A Section 408 permit allows an applicant to make changes to a Corps of Engineers building design, such as an easement for a conduit, as long as the change does not harm the community or reduce the effectiveness of the project, said Clay Church, public affairs officer at the Corps Fort. Worth the area.

Design modification means any action that builds on, alters, improves, relocates, hinders, occupies, or affects the utility, structural, or environmental integrity of an existing civil works project.

Those building the future floodwaters under the Central City Flood Project, which includes a new city hall, will need to file their own application under Section 408 as the project progresses. Funding for the Central City flood project was secured from the January 2022 U.S. Army Corps Civil Works Project budget.

“Not only do we need to meet the requirements now, we need to meet the future model (re-trenching the river),” Farley said.

Fort Worth purchased the former Pier 1 Imports headquarters in January 2021. City officials conducted a survey to find any easements or utilities that might interfere with the construction process. The survey did not reveal any federal floods, Farley said.

In December 2021, after Farley provided the Fort Worth City Council with a construction update, Tarrant Regional Water District officials contacted Farley and Assistant City Manager Dana Burgdoff, stating that the federal water line was running through the council chamber site plan.

“I read all the paperwork that was part of what the title company provided… sent it back to them and said, ‘I believe you, but there’s nothing in the paperwork here that says what it is,’” Farley said.

Eventually, the US Army Corps of Engineers issued a hand-drawn easement from the 1940s.

“I became an expert on the history of the Fort Worth River,” Farley said. “That was not my intention when I took on this project.”

One of the first questions Farley asked the water district was: given the age of the easements, combined with the fact that the river was dug in the 1960s, is this federal flood still in effect?

“As long as the conduit is active and provides flood protection for our community, the easements remain in place and remain in place,” Water District spokesman Chad Lorrance said in a statement. “Any trespasses on the border must be approved by the US Army Corps and TRWD to ensure the effectiveness of the flood and the flood forecasting it provides.”

The process was delayed for another three months after the US Army Corps ran out of funding for the permit review process. In fiscal year 2021, the US Army Corps allocated $9 million to the Section 408 permit review process. That money dried up before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the construction of the tower continues.

“The tower is racing forward at full speed,” said Farley.

The permitting process will be changed by the Central City Flood Control Project

Farley and his team submitted a 420-page document to the US Army Corps asking for a Section 408 clearance. The document addresses three key points, Farley said.

Project managers must ensure that the project will not adversely affect the amount of water that can be stored in the area in the event of a flood. To this end, the council chambers were redesigned to raise the council chambers four feet higher than originally planned.

“There are a lot of cascading impacts,” Farley said. “Because of that, there has been a major redesign that teams will have to go through.”

The application must also include sustainability plans such as stormwater treatment initiatives. Finally, the application must describe how the site will respond in the event of a flood, including protecting the building from flooding and developing plans to evacuate people from the site.

Farley went through the same process, using models for new federal flood easements following the cutback of the Trinity River, as it relates to the Central City flood project.

Lorrance said a potential developer planning to develop a particular property will look into previous documents and easements associated with the property. He added that if any easements are found, the developer should contact the water district to find out any restrictions and work on moving forward.

When the Central City Flood Project is completed in 2032, it will again impact federal flood easements by decommissioning levees adjacent to the Panther Island area, opening them up to development.

Farley applied for a 408 permit on December 9, 2022. The US Army Corps of Engineers will set a 30-day authorization review period. Farley expects to provide an update on the permit to City Council members this month.

“We expect it to be approved without any issues going forward,” Farley said. “We will start moving as fast as we can. So the goal will be early… next year, as soon as possible.”

Rachel Berndt is a reporter for the Fort Worth Report responsible for government reporting. Contact her at [email protected] or via Twitter. At Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of board members and financial backers. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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