United States

Tarrant Water Board Backs ‘Programmatic Review' of Panther Island Project

Water district leaders insist $1.1 billion project is on track

The Tarrant Regional Water District board on Tuesday supported a “programmatic review” of Panther Island after Fort Worth's mayor called for a full audit of the $1.1 billion project.

Meanwhile, the district’s general manager defended the project as being on track despite a lack of federal funding this year.

The board voted to instruct the Trinity River Vision Authority, which is a separate board created by the water district, to hire a company to do the review.

The TRVA’s next meeting is Nov. 7.

"I'm glad they've agreed to do it," Price said Tuesday. "I think we need to figure out if the money isn't coming from the federal government then how do we move forward? And I hope the programmatic review will solve that."

Panther Island is billed as a flood-control project largely funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It would reroute the Trinity River north of downtown and create a river walk similar to San Antonio’s.

But critics said the project has morphed into an economic development project that would double the size of downtown.

TRWD board member Jim Lane said he supported a review but said the city’s call for an audit creates the appearance of malfeasance.

“It's almost as if we're being accused of doing something that is inappropriate and that's not fair," Lane said. “We’re going to complete this project because it’s a good project.”

TRWD General Manager Jim Oliver said it’s a “myth” that the city has not known what is going on with Panther Island and where every dollar has been spent.

He noted the city manager and a city council member serve on TRVA’s board of directors.

“The city is very involved in this project,” Oliver said. “The city manager is very involved in this project. The city council is very involved in this project."

Backing the mayor, the city council last week called for transparency and voted unanimously to withhold $250 million in bond money approved in May by not extending a special tax district, which is needed to administer the money.

Oliver said the water district – not the city -- is in charge of the bond money.

“The bonds were voted in a TRWD election and only the TRWD board can decide whether those bonds will be issued,” Oliver said.

Oliver also addressed the lack of federal funding this year.

“The game with the Corps of Engineers is you have to go after annual funding,” he said. “That's the game in Washington with the Corps. It's unfortunate."

Oliver said he is still confident the project will get its full funding.

“I've never seen a Corps project that had local funding that was authorized not eventually get funding,” he said.

Price, who said she has met twice in Washington with federal officials about funding, said they expressed concern to her that a cost-benefit analysis for the project is required but was never done.

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