What is Panther Island?
Fort Worth officials said Monday they were worried about Panther Island after reading a consultant’s report about the $1.17 billion project.
The report from Dallas-based Riveron suggests changes to the management structure of the Trinity River Vision Authority to improve oversight, transparency and clear confusion surrounding the decades-old flood control and economic development effort. Suggestions include moving real estate development and recreation promotion on the island to a nonprofit and creating a risk management office to better plan for obstacles.
The Army Corps of Engineers Central City Project, known as Panther Island, requires the Corps to cut a bypass channel in the Trinity River, forming a roughly 800-acre island north of downtown that would be ripe for development. Though the channel is a Corps project, the Trinity River Vision Authority, Tarrant Regional Water District and city of Fort Worth act as local partners.
The project requires federal funding, about $60 million of which has been doled out. Congress approved $526 million for it in 2016, but funding has not been included in the past two federal budgets.
Fort Worth councilman Cary Moon said he has read parts of the report. His initial impression is that “optics continue to be bad,” and he called parts of the report “disappointing.”
Among Riveron’s key findings is the appearance of “impropriety, nepotism, favoritism and unfair dealing” resulting from a “lack of robust policies, procedures and transparency into TRVA operations.”
Moon said that finding, specifically, was alarming, along with evidence that the project needed better accounting.
“There appears to be serious need to make some changes,” he said. “It’s disappointing to see the word nepotism used. It’s disappointing to see there may be a lack of accounting.”
Moon said he supported a Riveron suggestion to split economic development and recreation promotion to a separate nonprofit, similar to Downtown Fort Worth Inc. or the Near Southside Inc. According to the report, marked “draft,” this change would allow the water district to focus on the flood control effort and clear up confusion about the project’s goals.
Moon’s council district includes part of Gateway Park, where the Army Corps will dig a flood control feature that will be needed once the channel is built.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called for an independent study of the project in October after reports the federal government would not provide needed funding this fiscal year. On Monday, Price said she had “serious concerns” after reading Riveron’s report.
“It is my expectation the TRVA board reviews the report publicly and provides a plan of action that addresses the issues raised in the report,” she said in a statement to the Star-Telegram.
She did not provide specifics but previously said she believed the report’s findings should be made public.
Other public and elected officials were more reserved.
Jack Stevens, water district board president, criticized the report, saying he did not agree with large portions of it. He wouldn’t go into specifics, but said he thought the review “didn’t rely on facts” or answer questions. He anticipates putting his concerns into a report to send to Riveron later this week or early next week.
James Hill, who serves on both the water district and authority boards, called the report “professional” but said he wouldn’t comment on specifics until Tuesday’s water district meeting.
Jim Lane, a water district board member, said he read the draft report but also didn’t want to comment until Tuesday’s board meeting. Board member Marty Leonard said she would not comment until Riveron made a public presentation of its report. Board member Leah King did not return a message seeking comment.
City Councilman Carlos Flores, a Trinity River Vision Authority board member, said he had read most of the report, but wanted to finish his analysis before commenting on the study.
Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks, who serves on the Trinity River Vision Authority board, has been out of town and said he had not read the report.
The 93-page report was supposed to be kept from the public until after Trinity River Vision Authority and Tarrant Regional Water District staff and board members read the review and offered Riveron comments or corrections.
Tarrant County administrator G.K. Maenius, the Trinity River Vision Authority board president, suggested the study not be released for about a month, arguing staff and board members needed time to digest it and ensure findings and recommendations were based on accurate data.
Maenius told reporters last week the delay was not a “stall tactic” but a genuine effort to ensure the final product was correct. He called the recommendations and findings “substantial” and encouraged board members to return comments or questions about the report to Riveron as soon as possible.
The Star-Telegram and KXAS/Channel 5 obtained copies of the report marked “draft” last week.