Preview: Panther Island review seeing no red flags

With the comprehensive review of the Panther Island project about to wrap up, the consulting firm hired to perform the review previewed its findings on June 5, noting that there is no evidence of wrongdoing in the operation but there is room for improvement.

“There are no red flags,” Kevin Ruiz, a senior management consultant for Dallas-based Riveron, told the Trinity River Vision Authority board. “There is nothing wrong going on and there is no sign of malfeasance and no sign of fraud.”

Often when the Dallas-based consulting firm is hired to conduct a sweeping review, concerns over the possibility of fraud or wrongdoing are the impetus, Ruiz said.

Instead, the TRVA management team headed by Executive Director J.D. Granger has been cooperative and helpful and forthcoming with documents, according to Ruiz.

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Results of the review, including recommendations for changes and improvements, are to be presented to the TRVA board on July 10.

The TRVA board awarded Riveron a contract for $466,222 in April to spend about three months examining all aspects of the $1.16 billion Panther Island program also known as the Central City project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers endorsed the project in 2016, opening the door for federal funding of $526 million to dig a 1.5-mile bypass channel on the Trinity River north of the Tarrant County Courthouse.

That channel would add flood control protection as well as carve out an 800-acre center island, which would create waterfront economic development opportunities.

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But the project has only been appropriated about $60 million so far and prospects for funding continue to appear dismal in the short-term.

A spokesman for the Corps confirmed in April that the Trump administration’s 2020 funding priorities for flood control and water projects did not include Panther Island.

Should Congress follow this recommendation and omit Panther Island from its Corps appropriation, this would be the fourth consecutive funding cycle that the project has been overlooked.

The TRVA’s budget includes $26 million in federal funding in 2020 and another $35 million for 2021.

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About $324 million in local tax money has already been spent on the project, including a $200 loan from the Tarrant Regional Water District, the parent agency of the TRVA. Local funds are being stretched through this fiscal year to keep the project solvent.

The failure to attract federal funds was a key reason for the review.

Ruiz said the review has identified 12 key findings regarding the project, the first being the uncertainty of federal funding, which has to do with the complexity of the project

The project was envisioned about 15 years ago when its scope was smaller and had fewer participants, Ruiz said.

“The growth of the project in scope, size and complexity has created a need for greater discipline and structure,” he said.

Other findings indicate ill-defined roles of the various agencies involved in the project, including the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, the water district and Trinity River Vision Authority.

The need for improved management and transparency was also among the findings, as was the need for better and consistent communication, with the focus being on flood control and public safety rather than other factors such as economic development.

The consultants will present recommendations to go along with the findings in the full report.

Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius, who is also chair of the TRVA board, said Riveron is a “top-quality firm and has done everything we asked them to do.”

Riveron has been working on the review for about seven weeks. Ruiz said it is 60 to 70 percent complete and should be finishing under-budget.

The TRVA board’s original schedule set completion of the review by June 30. But the contract was approved later than scheduled due to price negotiations with Riveron, the only consulting firm to bid on the review.

David Cooke, Fort Worth city manager and a member of TRVA board, asked whether Riveron could provide steps that could be taken to secure federal funds. Ruiz replied that the report would identify triggers that have been obstacles

“We’re still in the findings stage,” Ruiz said.

In other matters, Doug Rademaker, senior projects manager for city, overseeing construction of the three Panther Island bridges said only four of the 20 V-piers remain to be poured.

The city and the Texas Department of Transportation are overseeing construction of the bridges, which are now more than a year behind the original completion date. Officials said the current completion schedule remains September 2020 for White Settlement Road and early 2021 for North Main Street and Henderson St.

“It’s been since December that we’ve had an acceptable schedule,” said Kate Beck, a project manager for the city.

Related to the Panther Island project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that a $5.2 million contract has been awarded for construction of valley storage in Gateway Park.

The project is the second phase of development of storage capacity. This phase involves a 26-acre site in the park and is known as Oxbow Phase 2.

The contract was awarded to Ahtna Inc., an Alaska Native Regional Corp. from Anchorage. The contract was awarded under a U.S. Small Business Administration program.