The Panther Island project, a massive $1.2 billion flood control endeavor on the Trinity River in Fort Worth, is struggling to acquire the funding that its project managers believe is needed to continue development.
It currently only has $74,000 in funding to maintain core staff and operations through December, according to G.K. Maenius, the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA) board president.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we will work local funding out,” Maenius said.
The project has expended about $330 million of local funds so far, but Maenius said that is typical for local entities to carry the upfront costs.
“We had to acquire the rights-of-way, relocate businesses, and do extensive environmental cleanup. Much of the final years’ allocation of money will come from the federal government,” he explained.
Several options for funding were discussed at the TRVA board meeting on Wednesday.
The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), one of the entities involved in the TRVA and Panther Island project, is willing to consider funding core operations while the Board works out the funding issues.
In addition, the TRWD has $250 million in general obligation bonds approved by voters last year that it could sell, Maenius said. However, the special tax-increment financing (TIF) district, authorized by another partner entity, the City of Fort Worth, would have to be extended to provide the funding to repay those bonds.
The City of Fort Worth is hesitant to extend its TIF district to fund the repayment of debts until more federal funding is received.
Panther Island may not get federal funding this year. No request for the project was included in the FY2020 budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Clay Church, Corps of Engineers public affairs specialist.
The federal government has earmarked about $62 million to the project over the years, with the last funding allocated in FY2017. Church could not verify the remaining balance of those funds at the time of publication, but said that the Corps of Engineers is still working on some ecosystem and flood mitigation projects using remaining funds.
The Trinity River Vision Authority hired consultant Mark Mazzanti on November 15 to help coordinate all of the efforts of the local and federal agencies involved in the Panther Island project in order to develop a strategy to get federal funding.
Recent recommendations by a third-party firm’s audit in the Riveron report are meant to help get the project back on track and have been adopted by the TRVA, Maenius confirmed.
Following a Riveron report recommendation, J.D. Granger, son of Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX-12), has changed positions from executive director of the TRVA to being employed by the TRWD and working internally on flood control.
He now reports directly to the TRWD general manager, Jim Oliver.
The change came after years of project development issues, which the Riveron report attributed to a lack of transparency and governance issues within the TRVA leadership structure.
Economic development activities at Panther Island will be handled by the City of Fort Worth instead of TRVA. Entertainment aspects of Panther Island will be handled by the TRWD.
These changes should help operationally and with how the public views the project, Maenius explained.
“It has always had community support, but it is an optics issue. It is a flood control project that got lost in the economic development and entertainment aspects,” he said.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.