Despite Funding Drought, Panther Island Project Won't Be Left ‘Hanging,' Board Member Vows

One day after learning Fort Worth’s “Panther Island” project missed out on federal funding again, for the third year in a row, some of the people overseeing the work insisted there’s no reason to sweat.

“We will get the funding. Nobody is going to leave this project hanging,” said Jim Lane, longtime board member with the Tarrant Regional Water District.

Both Lane and the TRWD’s general manager, Jim Oliver, said they are confident the federal funding will eventually come to finish the project, completing the bypass of the Trinity River and creating an urban island north of downtown Fort Worth.

“We got through a Republican administration, and got money. We went through a Democratic administration, and got money,” Oliver told board members during their regular meeting on Tuesday.

He added that the project “is on track,” despite a “little hiccup right now.”

But not everyone on the TRWD, parent to the Trinity River Vision Authority, is certain everything is okay with the massive endeavor, billed both as a flood-control project and as an economic development program.

Board member James Hill said taxpayers are owed a better explanation on why the federal government has not opened its checkbook to Panther Island in recent years.

“Before we spend money that belongs to taxpayers, we have a duty to make sure that we are set up correctly, and that the federal funding piece, and all of the pieces, are moving in the right direction,” Hill said.

Since 2016, Panther Island has received just $16 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – far less that at first anticipated.

More than $400 million is needed from the Corps to finish the job, officials have said.

This week, the Corps announced it would be giving no money to Panther Island for 2019, while other Texas projects received big money, including $55 million to the Lake Lewisville dam for badly needed repairs.

Hill said a review of spending so far for Panther Island would “give us some additional understanding and clarity of what we need to do to have access to those dollars ongoing.”

In Washington, the project has been dogged by critics who argue it’s less about flood control and more about economic development.

One official in the Trump administration told NBC 5 Investigates that the “project did not meet the Army Corps’ priority criteria” for funding.

Panther Island is competing against projects in areas that have recently been ravaged by flooding.

But supporters remain confident money will eventually flow again to the banks of the Trinity River.

“Washington needs to go on about doing their business and leave us alone,” Lane said, adding: “Fund it like you said you would. We’ll do our part…and we’ll finish this project.”

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