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Monday, April 12, 2021

Water District agrees to review of Panther Island project

The Tarrant Regional Water District on Tuesday unanimously agreed to a review of the $1.1 billion Panther Island project, following the lead of Mayor Betsy Price who has recommended a review.

The TRWD and the Trinity River Vision Authority are partners in the project along with the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Tarrant County officials have yet to speak out on the need for re-examination of the project at this point.

The City Council has yet to officially call for a review but council members individually have endorsed Price’s plan for further scrutiny.

The scope of the review is still undetermined. No decision has been made about who would be tasked with conducting it.

Price’s announcement last week that the time has come to take another look at the project, and possibly scale it back, follows reports that the project was not granted federal funding this year. The project’s financing is based on federal funds paying nearly $600 million of the cost.

The project has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a significant step in the process of obtaining federal funds.

When the project was left out of this year’s Corps appropriations, mixed reports emerged, some indicating that there were higher-priority flood control projects in other parts of the country and others suggesting that an economic impact analysis had not been undertaken and that was to blame.

“As in the past, the Corps is currently developing its work plan, which will allocate funds appropriated by Congress,” Corps Spokesman Clay Church said in a statement. “This funding is eligible and is being considered for funding.

“There is no requirement for an additional study,” Church said.

TRWD board member James Hill made the appeal to the board for following Price’s recommendation and going ahead with a review.

“This is a very large, very complex project,” Hill said. “One of our partners has expressed concern about it so we should do this to make sure we are being transparent.”

“A lot has changed since this project got started so it makes sense to take another look,” Hill said.

A staunch supporter of the project, board member Jim Lane said he is confident that U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth will prevail in helping secure the funding for the project.

Lane said the project has always been about flood control and not economic development as some critics have claimed.

“The city is demanding an audit,” he said. Maybe “someone thinks there is malfeasance.”

Former board member Mary Kelleher said she was pleased to see the board decide to agree to the review.

A long-time critic of TRWD, Kelleher frequently dissented on major TRWD board decisions and pushed the public agency toward greater transparency.

“The Corps should do a cost-benefit analysis because we really don’t know how much of it is for flood control and how much for economic development,” she said.

An analysis done by a University of North Texas research center in 2005 estimated that the development would have a $1.6 billion economic impact (in 2005 dollars) and support more than 16,000 direct and indirect jobs.

TRWD officials compared the project to the Chisholm Trail Parkway, a publicly funded transportation project that has spurred millions in economic development.

Price has said the review should be tied be conducted before extending a tax finance district that would be used to pay off the $250 million in the bonds that voters approved in April for helping fund the project.

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