Fort Worth

Panther Island will pay $460,000 for project review

Army Corps Officials: “We don’t have the funding” for Panther Island

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tell lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the White House won't give them the "green light" to complete Fort Worth's Panther Island project, March 27, 2019.
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Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tell lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the White House won't give them the "green light" to complete Fort Worth's Panther Island project, March 27, 2019.

An independent review of Panther Island — the $1.17 billion flood control project north of downtown Fort Worth — will cost more than $460,000.

The analysis, to be done by consultant Riveron, is meant in part to answer what could be done to ensure that the federal government pays the remainder of more than $500 million Congress has approved for the project. The review will look at management, finances as well as whether an economic analysis will be needed to satisfy Washington. It’s expected to be done by July.

The price tag, $466,222, is cheaper than an original estimate of nearly $800,000. Kevin Ruiz, a Chicago-based Riveron representative, told the Trinity River Vision Authority’s board that the company may not need to charge the full price if its investigation moves swiftly. The precise funding source was not clear Wednesday, but the authority has about $10 million from a loan from its parent organization, the Tarrant Regional Water District.

Riveron, a national business consulting firm with offices in Dallas, and its engineering partner, Kansas City, Mo.,-based Burns and McDonnell, were the only firms to bid on the analysis though the authority’s board had hoped to attract several bidders.

“They have been very successful in helping organizations review their activities and make recommendations,” said G.K. Maenius, Tarrant County administrator and Trinity River Vision Authority board president.

The Army Corps of Engineer’s Central City Project, often called the Panther Island project, requires the Corps to cut a bypass channel in the Trinity River north of downtown Fort Worth, forming a roughly 800-acre island. The channel is part of a flood control effort aimed at protecting about 2,400 acres while allowing some of the city’s levees to come down.

The project received roughly $60 million under previous administrations. Congress approved $526 million for it in 2016. That money is expected to be doled out over several years but wasn’t included in the last two federal budgets.

Panther Island was approved without the normal cost-benefit analysis required for Army Corps Civil Works projects. Project officials have said this study was skipped because the Corps can’t measure future economic development that would be driven by the creation of the downtown island.

The Corps has said the project remains eligible, but officials from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget have said the cost-benefit analysis was needed before the administration would prioritize the project.

Riveron is expected to analyze the project’s progress, management structure and funding. It will also look at whether the economic analysis was needed. Its final report is due in 12 weeks but Riveron will provide weekly updates to Maenius.

A contract with Riveron was signed Wednesday afternoon, but a copy was not immediately made available.

Calls for an independent review of Panther Island’s management, finances and progress came from Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and council members in October after the Star-Telegram reported the White House had not prioritized the project. The council voiced support then for not extending the life a special tax district meant to help finance local portions of the project.

Without the extended tax zone, it’s unclear if the water district will issue the $250 million in bonds voters approved in May 2018. Without that money, the authority will have to borrow when its $10 milllion runs out.

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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 lranker@star-telegram.com.
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