This week, the future of the Panther Island project in Fort Worth was thrown into further uncertainty when it was announced that additional federal funding would not be authorized for the project.
In the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2020 budget, no additional money will be given for the self-styled “flood control” project along the banks of the Trinity River, despite local officials hopes for $38 million.
Instead, the project will be given just $1.5 million in the 2020 budget to be used for a feasibility study as opposed to the $38 million originally requested.
Additionally, Texas Scorecard reported that a cost-benefit feasibility study, a necessary prerequisite for Army Corps projects, has never been completed for Panther Island in the 14 years it has undergone development.
Furthermore, the $1.5 million from the Army Corp of Engineers will also not be enough to cover the full cost of the feasibility study.
According to the Star-Telegram, another $1.5 million will still be needed from the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) for the study to be conducted.
Four years ago, Congress allocated more than $500 million for the project in 2016, but only a portion of that money has since been given.
Since its inception in 2006, the project has received just over $60 million in federal funds and more than $320 million in total taxpayer funding.
Originally projected to cost $435 million in 2006, cost estimates for the redevelopment project are now three times that amount at nearly $1.2 billion.
After struggling for over a decade to make progress, overcome financial obstacles, and coordinate management, TRWD Board member James Hill said last month that the project “kind of ran out of money.”
After the TRWD designated an additional $1 million for the project at the beginning of January, the board planned for the $1 million to cover three months’ worth of costs.
Panther Island had already exceeded its $200 million loan from TRWD at this time and funding from the city of Fort Worth through an extended tax increment financing district (TIF) was declined.
In January, Hill had also expressed hope that additional federal funding from the Army Corp of Engineers would be provided in February, despite not receiving federal funds for the last two years.
The sweeping project involves not only rerouting the Trinity River but also redeveloping the area for recreational use as well.
If completed, the flood control project would double the size of downtown Fort Worth toward the North and create a new island.
The project has been steeped in further controversy, not only by the lack of progress, transparency, and financial expenditures, but also because the executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA), the entity charged with overseeing the project, is J.D. Granger, son of long-time congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX-12).
Granger, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, has been reluctant to comment about the status and lack of progress toward the project.
Rep. Granger is currently facing a competitive Republican primary from former Colleyville City Councilman Chris Putnam.
Putnam has been quick to question her about the status of the project, even calling for an investigation of Panther Island moving forward.
“It’s time to properly investigate the origins of this project, what happened to the approximately $400M of taxpayer money that has already been spent, and in addition to JD Granger who else at either the TRWD or TRVA has benefited financially,” Putnam said in an official statement.
As the future of the project is shrouded in further uncertainty after the events of this week, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has expressed interest in exploring public-private partnerships if the project is to continue.
Previously, Price met with White House officials to discuss the future of the project among other things
For now, work on the Panther Island project will continue despite there being no new money for construction.
Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.