Fort Worth

Panther Island review nears completion. What will it mean for the project’s future?

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct Riveron’s headquarters. The consultant is based in Dallas.

An independent assessment of the Trinity River project called Panther Island has led to at least a dozen key findings, but reviewers so far have found no red flags with the $1.17 billion flood control effort.

Riveron, a Dallas firm, has been digging into Trinity River Vision Authority documents and interviewing key staff since mid-April. Fort Worth officials are hopeful the review — meant to study the project’s feasibility, funding and management — will help the project land more than $500 million needed from the federal government to complete a bypass channel in the river near downtown. It was done in lieu of the cost-benefit analysis normally required.

Kevin Ruiz, a Riveron representative, said the review was nearly complete and the company would begin formulating a series of recommendations related to its findings. He spoke generally Wednesday without providing major detail, but a full report will be provided July 10. No malfeasance or signs of wrongdoing have been found, he said.

Ruiz said Riveron would suggest refocusing messaging about the project.

Originally conceived as a flood control effort, much of the attention has been centered on how a bypass channel would create an 800-acre island downtown poised for development. Ruiz said the authority needed to return to a focus on “flood control and public safety” in branding.

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.

Though looking into federal funding options was not a part of the original scope of Riveron’s review, Ruiz said the firm has considered the need for funding and will present a suggestion for the right path to secure it. He stopped short of saying its assessment would guarantee federal dollars would flow again, but said there would a “very sensitive series of conversations” about obstacles to funding.

Riveron’s findings will also indicate the authority lacks a robust contingency plan, likely because it is set up as a coordinating body, not a management body, he said. Ruiz said “substantial room for improvement” existed with the authority’s management and transparency, but further details were not made available Wednesday.

Ruiz was complementary of Trinity River Vision Authority staff, including general manager J.D. Granger, son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger. Staff had been “nothing but helpful, nothing but generous with their time,” he said, making the review move quickly.

Because Riveron’s review has been speedy, it might come in under the $466,222 budgeted.

Meanwhile, Texas Department of Transportation officials and the contractor building the three bridges that will span the channel are still working to clarify their completion dates.

The White Settlement Road bridge is expected to be done first, in August or September 2020, followed by North Main and Henderson Streets between February and May 2021.

Progress is being made, said Doug Rademaker, a senior projects manager with the city. Crews have finished 16 of the 20 unique V-piers, leaving only four on Henderson Street left.

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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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