The Trinity River Vision Authority agreed on Wednesday to move quickly on a review of the possibly endangered Panther Island project to determine the best path forward.
The TRVA follows the lead of the Tarrant Regional Water District in supporting a review of the complex $1.1 billion project. Mayor Betsy Price was the first to recommend the review and individual City Council members have expressed support for a re-examination, although the council has yet to take a formal vote.
Tarrant County, also a partner in the project, hasn’t yet taken up the matter.
However, Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius, who serves as chair of the TRVA board, said the TRVA “has a responsibility to the TRWD” to undertake this review.
Maenius said the “programmatic review” should be approached with urgency and requested that TRVA board members submit suggestions for the scope of the review quickly so it could be assembled as soon as December and the review could begin early next year.
“We’ve got to do this in an open environment,” Maenius said.
Along with Maenius, board members of the TRVA represent the various entities that are partners in the project, including City Manager David Cooke.
“Everyone wants this project to happen,” Cooke said. “So doing this review is a good way to start so we know what we need to do and what our options are for getting funds.”
Maenius recommended that an independent consultant conduct the comprehensive review to examine all aspects of the project.
Questions about the viability of Panther Island began to emerge last month following reports that nearly $600 million in federal funds that had been green-lighted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project were not allocated in this year’s federal budget.
A short while later, Price announced the need for another review of the project and the possibility it might need to be scaled back.
Price told the Fort Worth Business Press that she had learned from a top official in the federal Office of Management and Budget that the project was not funded because “it’s economic development” and not merely flood control as it has long been touted.
For about two decades, supporters of the project pressed that its intent was to eliminate the aging levees of the Trinity River near downtown and replace them with an ambitious redeveloped river corridor highlighted by a town lake and a San Antonio-style river walk.
Price said her takeaway from the meeting with the OMB official was that the project needed to be re-examined to focus only on flood control. Other features, including the canals, would have to be created through a public-private partnership with a private developer, she told the Business Press.
The project has only received $64 million in federal funds over the past 14 years. With bridges being built over dry land nearing completion, “we have to figure out how to dig this channel to get water under those bridges,” she said.
The project has been expected to move forward with federal funds and the Army Corps of Engineers to cut the bypass channel to allow water to flow under those bridges.
Maenius and Cooke both pledged cooperation and resources of the county and the city to help keep the project moving forward.
“We need to get the bridges finished and keep our focus on getting outside help to get this done,” added James Hill, a member of the TRWD and TRVA boards.