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After securing federal permit, city to begin construction on council chambers this week

 A rendering of new city hall Fort Worth City Council chambers. (City of Fort Worth)
City of Fort Worth
A rendering of new city hall Fort Worth City Council chambers.

Construction will finally begin on Fort Worth’s new City Council chambers after permitting delays sidelined the project for months.

The city announced securing the necessary easement permit about eight months after discovering a federal floodway running through the future site. Now, residents can expect work to begin on the new council chambers this week, said Tanyan Farley, the project manager with Athenian Group.

“Really over the next couple of weeks you’ll see full mobilization of the site,” Farley said. “We’ve had everything ready to roll for a long time.”

The purpose of the federal permit is to allow the applicant to alter a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works project, if the change will not harm the public or reduce the efficacy of the project.

The ABCs of floodways

A federal floodway refers to land adjacent to a river that must be reserved to discharge flood waters in the case that water levels become too high during a rain event.

In this instance, a federal floodway easement is a piece of land on a property designated to divert floodwaters. The presence of an easement requires developers to get permission from the easements’ owner before development.

“A developer may not develop within this easement area if the development would interfere with… flood protection/control,” said Woody Frossard, environmental division director with Tarrant Regional Water District.

Now that the federal permit is secured, the city can move forward on issuing its own internal permits for grading and foundation. The next step is construction; the city expects to hold its first council meeting in the new chambers late 2024 to early 2025, according to the release.

The council chambers will stand adjacent to the existing tower, which used to house the corporate headquarters for Pier 1 Imports at 100 Energy Way. Construction on the tower is underway and staff is expected to move in within the next six months, Farley said.

Flawed survey cause unexpected delays

 A line drawn with pen depicts the true boundaries of a federal floodway easement. A survey map produced by Blue Sky Surveying and Mapping showed a small area of land free of floodway restrictions. However, the line was approximate. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)
Rachel Behrndt
/
Fort Worth Report
A line drawn with pen depicts the true boundaries of a federal floodway easement. A survey map produced by Blue Sky Surveying and Mapping showed a small area of land free of floodway restrictions. However, the line was approximate.

The permitting process also cost the city $7.6 million, part of a total$50 million in unexpected costs associated with the new City Hall project.

“Fort Worth’s Future City Hall will deliver on the promise to create a welcoming and inviting space that will help to transform an important area of downtown,” Mayor Mattie Parker said in a press release Tuesday.

The city was not aware that a portion of the footprint for new City Hall’s council chambers fell within a federal floodway easement until after the design for the chambers began. Survey plats produced by Blue Sky Surveying and Mapping for the city showed a small area of land free of floodway restrictions, which city contractors later targeted for the council chambers.

The survey plats approximated floodway easement boundaries, rather than drawing out the exact boundary. Contractors relied on the flawed survey while they planned the project’s future.

It wasn’t until officials from Tarrant Regional Water District pointed out the missing floodway easement in December 2022 that the city realized it would have to go through the costly and time-intensive process of securing a federal permit before work could continue.

In hindsight, more work should have been done to validate the results of the initial land survey conducted by Blue Sky, Farley said.

In April, the city hired law firmCantey Hanger LLP to determine if the city should pursue litigation. Preparation is ongoing for the city to pursue legal action regarding the survey, Preethi Thomas, a spokesperson for the city, said in a statement.

The city submitted its final permit application to the Army Corps in April. After receiving no comments from the federal agency, the permit application went out for a 30-day public comment period in May before receiving final approval.

The city worked with the water district and the Army Corps to finalize plans that comply with the guidelines required by the federal permit. The water district works to reduce the risk of flooding by maintaining the region’s floodway system, including 27 miles of floodway levees built by the Corps.

“This is another example of TRWD, the Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Fort Worth working together to reduce the public’s risk of flooding even as our region grows,” said Dan Buhman, the water district’s general manager.

The city also worked with several contractors including planning firm BOKA Powell, Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects and Carrillo Engineering to finalize the permit application and plans.

The final design also had to comply with the future route of the Trinity River after the Army Corps digs a 1.5-mile bypass channel for the Central City Flood Project. Design of the north and south bypass channels are underway.

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.