United States

Panther Island Critic: ‘I Told You So'

"The challenges are paramount going forward,” Mary Kelleher said. “I just don't see it ever coming to be"

A former board member of the agency overseeing Fort Worth’s Panther Island has long predicted problems with the $1.1 billion project and expressed doubt it will ever be completed as planned.

“I hate to say ‘I told you so,’” said Mary Kelleher, who was known as the “squeaky wheel” when she served on the Trinity River Vision Authority board from 2013 to 2017.

On Monday, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price suggested the massive flood control and redevelopment project north of downtown be scaled back and also called for a comprehensive audit.

The mayor’s comments came after funding from the U.S. Corps of Engineers was cut. Federal money was supposed to pay for half the project for flood control.

Backers said they’re hopeful they’ll get federal funding next year and the project is still on track.

But Kelleher said she doubts it.

"The challenges are paramount going forward,” she said. “I just don't see it ever coming to be."

In February 2017, Kelleher asked TRVA executive director J.D. Granger why a cost-benefit study for Panther Island was never done.

Granger appeared to say a study wasn’t required when Congress initially authorized the spending.

"The original project did not have the cost analysis because it was actually set up and authorized in an appropriations bill,” he said. “But that's been the situation that they want."

That analysis, required by federal law, is key.

Price said federal officials told her it's a major reason they didn't fund the project this year.

"It's a boondoggle,” Kelleher said. “It's not for flood control. It's for economic development."

Kelleher said the scope of the project grew too much, too fast.

"It's out of control,” she said. “It started small. But now we're in the billions."

Kelleher said she tried to sound the alarm when she was on the board but nobody would listen.

"It's embarrassing for Fort Worth,” she said. “It's embarrassing for the Tarrant Regional Water District."

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