Fort Worth

Officials say Panther Island is on track. But it needs a lot of money soon

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Follow all of the Star-Telegram’s Panther Island coverage

Read more about Fort Worth’s $1.16 billion flood control and economic development project that has stopped receiving federal funds.

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Despite a lack of federal funding for Fort Worth’s Panther Island project this year, officials said Tuesday the project is on track for completion in the next decade.

Congress approved nearly $530 million for the project in 2016, but those dollars won’t come in fiscal year 2019. Panther Island was left out of the White House’s budget for lack of an economic feasibility study. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work plan for fiscal year 2019, published last week, included several Texas projects, but not Panther Island. It’s the third consecutive year the work plan hasn’t included the Fort Worth project.

Though as much as $40 million worth of work could be accomplished in 2019, Panther Island has about $9 million for the federal flood control component. It needs at least $26 million in 2020 to stay on schedule. An additional $35 million would be needed in 2021.

Facing the prospect of an independent analysis of Panther Island’s management and progress, dubbed “a programmatic review,” project leaders remain confident that it is on track to receive federal funding again.

Jim Oliver, general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District which has partnered with Fort Worth and Tarrant County, said Panther Island has always been seen as a long-term project. It is expected to be completed by 2028.

Federal dollars were left out this year, but the project has received money in some form for the Army Corps’ work during previous administrations so, Oliver said, he feels confident it will return.

“We’ve had a little hiccup right now,” he said.

Oliver spoke Tuesday during the water district’s monthly meeting where J.D. Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority charged with coordinating the project, gave an overview of the authority’s responsibility.

The authority’s board, comprised of officials from the city, county, water district and Streams and Valleys Inc., will meet next week to discuss the scope of the independent review of progress and management.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and city council members called for an independent review of Panther Island in late October citing concerns over the lack of federal funding. Price also suggested that the authority “scale back” anything not directly related to flood control.

The bulk of the flood control work must be done by the Army Corps and involves cutting a channel in the river, creating Panther Island. About 12 acres of riverfront land will be created in the process, ripe for development.

Granger said he believes that the community is confused about the authority’s role. It is not to develop the land. Its main role is vetting developer ideas and promoting a tax district through event programming, he said.

He compared the authority to Downtown Fort Worth Inc., which promotes the city’s core and works with developers to ensure that projects fit city standards.

“We’re not building anything,” he said.

Water district board member James Hill, who has voiced support for the independent review, said he’s worried that without federal funding and the channel, taxpayers would be left holding the bill with undeveloped land.

In May, Fort Worth voters approved $250 million in bonds as part of the local contribution to flood control. A tax district created around Panther Island is meant to help fund part of that on the premise that Panther Island would generate new tax revenue once it’s developed.

Granger said there is no reason to worry about slow development. Interior areas of the future island can be developed now, he said.

“That area around the ball field is ready for development,” he said.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or
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