Several Fort Worth City Council members Tuesday echoed Mayor Betsy Price’s call for a third party review of the $1.16 billion Panther Island Project.
Although council members and other officials remain confident in the project, which involves rerouting the river north of downtown Fort Worth and creating an urban lake and island, they agree an audit should be done before the city considers an extension of a special tax district in the area.
Voters in May approved $250 million in bonds to help support the local piece of the $1.16 billion effort.
“We have to get a third-party independent review of the project,” Price said.
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Councilman Cary Moon said the city has trusted other organizations involved in the project to hold themselves to a high standard. The Trinity River Vision Authority is overseeing the project along with the Tarrant Regional Water District.
“We just want to verify that and ask them to be transparent,” Moon said. “Show us the progress and the future viability for this.”
Congress approved funding up to $526 million for the flood control aspect of the project, but left it out of the 2019 federal budget.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said the federal portion will eventually be funded. Price on Monday suggested scaling back the endeavor to simply flood control to ensure those dollars come through.
Flood control remains the city’s focus, City Manager David Cooke said. It includes a channel north of downtown for which three bridges are currently being built.
“If you have three bridges built over dry land, people are going to start asking a lot of questions,” Cooke said.
Councilman Carlos Flores agreed that infrastructure should be the council’s focus.
“We need to make sure we do everything we can do as a council to make sure our oversight is spot on,” he said.
Councilman Dennis Shingleton cautioned that calling for an independent audit isn’t an indication the council believes the project has been poorly managed or an indication of malfeasance.
“We just need to answer to our citizens who ask us ‘Where is this thing going?’” he said.
The council’s comments came after a lengthy executive session ahead of Tuesday’s regular council meeting.
County officials have remained confident in the project.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley disagreed that an audit was needed and that it needed to be scaled back. He said U.S. Rep. Kay Granger assured him that funding will come through for Panther Island.
“Let’s step back and look at all phases of the project,” Whitley said. “The important part is getting the flood control project built.”
Federal dollars remain available from past allocations, the Trinity River Vision Authority has said, and work continues on federal projects outside of downtown.
“We still have money from the feds, and there’s no reason to think we wouldn’t going forward,” spokesman Matt Oliver said.