Fort Worth

Final version of report recommends oversight changes for Panther Island project

A messaging problem might be getting in the way of Panther Island funding, says independent study

Kevin Ruiz, a representative with the Dallas-based consulting firm Riveron gave the Trinity River Vision Authority a summary of the independent review on Monday, August 12, 2019. A key concern throughout the meeting was funding for the project.
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Kevin Ruiz, a representative with the Dallas-based consulting firm Riveron gave the Trinity River Vision Authority a summary of the independent review on Monday, August 12, 2019. A key concern throughout the meeting was funding for the project.

A months-long review of the city’s Panther Island project shows that a change in oversight is needed.

The independent study notes funding challenges for the project, but it cites no wrongdoing.

“There was no indication of malfeasance, no indication of fraud,” Kevin Ruiz, a representative with the Dallas-based consulting firm Riveron that conducted the review, told the Trinity River Vision Authority’s board of directors Monday afternoon.

Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius, who heads the board, said members should be ready at their September meeting to have a thorough conversation about the report and how they should move forward.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and several council members sat in the audience, listening to Monday’s presentation. Price said she came to hear the presentation, which will be repeated to the City Council next month.

A key concern repeated through the hour-long meeting was whether there will be enough funding to finish the $1.17 billion project.

“The biggest challenge for this project right now, the elephant in the room, is securing federal funding,” Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke said.

But many said acting on some of Riveron’s recommendations is likely to open doors to more funding.

Price admits gaining needed funding is “a long row to hoe,” but she believes it will happen.

She and U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, recently met with senior White House staff after it appeared federal funding had stalled. She now believes that additional funding, potentially at least $250 million, will soon be available.

Riveron recommendations

Among the recommendations in the final version of a report offering an independent review of the $1.17 billion project that was unveiled to the public Monday:

Separate responsibilities. The report said the public perceives Panther Island as three projects designed to boost recreation, economic development and flood control. It suggested separating and realigning responsibilities so that the Trinity River Vision Authority would solely focus on building the flood control portion — such as the bypass channel, bridges and related construction. Recreation would fall to the Tarrant Regional Water District. And a new nonprofit would be created to oversee economic development.

Change the organizational structure for the Trinity River Vision Authority. The report calls for executive director J.D. Granger — son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, who has spearheaded this project — to report to the Vision Authority board. He currently reports to Jim Oliver, a board member and Tarrant Regional Water District general manager.

Create a formal risk management office within the Trinity River Vision Authority. The office would identify and assess the risks that could affect the project. The goal is to coordinate and communicate project progress and challenges.

Monday’s presentation came more than a month after the board received a draft of the report.

Officials initially said the more than 90-page report wouldn’t be publicly released until after Trinity River Vision Authority board members and Tarrant Regional Water District staff had a chance to review it and suggest changes.

The Star-Telegram and other media outlets received draft copies of the report from government sources close to the project. The heart of the report didn’t change too much.

Dallas-based consulting firm Riveron conducted the review of the project — studying the management, structure and finances — and wrote the report after Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called for the review when the federal government didn’t provide funding for the project this fiscal year.

Panther Island

Also known as the Central City Project, the plan calls on the Army Corps of Engineers to cut a bypass channel in the Trinity River north of downtown Fort Worth, creating a riverfront island north of downtown that would be prime for development.

Federal funding for the project, spearheaded by Kay Granger, has been parceled out through the years.

The funding includes about $325 million from local taxpayers and about $60 million from previous presidential administrations. Congress allocated $526 million in 2016.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on this project and we’ve gone much too far to not finish the project,” Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said. “It is a flood control project and one of the results will be to put water under these beautiful bridges we are building. … The water will be a result of the flood control project. Everything else is ancillary.

“But it’s a huge benefit to the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County … we need to make every effort to make sure we get it done.”

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.
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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.