Local NewsTaxes & SpendingTarrant Water District Spends $3 Million on Panther Island Tracts While Federal Funding Still Questionable

The Tarrant Regional Water District approved the purchase of more land for the beleaguered Panther Island project while federal funding to complete it remains uncertain.
November 17, 2021
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At the November 16 meeting of the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) board, members voted unanimously to pay $3 million for four parcels of land for the Trinity River Vision project, also known as Panther Island.

The parcels are currently appraised by the Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD) for just under $600,000. Steve Christian, the real property director for TRWD, said at the board meeting that the land was appraised at $3 million by a state-licensed appraiser, adding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had also reviewed and approved the appraisal. 

Members of the Water District Accountability Project, a group advocating for more accountability and transparency from TRWD, are concerned about the purchase for two main reasons.

First, they wonder why TRWD is paying significantly more than the TAD’s appraised value for land that will end up being in a drainage channel. The Panther Island project includes a flood control portion known as Central City that “consists of a bypass channel, levee system, and associated improvements to divert flood flows around a segment of the existing floodway system.”

The tracts are located at 309, 317, and 321 Greenleaf according to the TAD website.

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The largest parcel in this purchase, 309 Greenleaf, is valued at $279,920 by TAD. 

Christian informed the TRWD board that this is the last piece of property to be acquired for the planned bypass channel. It is currently owned by GO Investments. 

TRWD owns many parcels of land in and around downtown Fort Worth, some for longer than 10 years. The Texan’s search of the TAD website turned up dozens of parcels of land, with at least one valued over $9 million. 

According to the Fort Worth Report, TRWD has made 65 other land acquisitions for the project totaling $93 million. 

Because TRWD is a government entity, it is exempt from paying property taxes on these parcels, removing this land from the tax base of such taxing entities as the City of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Independent School District, and Tarrant County. 

Additionally, TRWD approved an expenditure to hire security services to protect the currently unused LaGrave Field, former home of the minor league Fort Worth Cats baseball team, from vandalism and other property crimes. TRWD acquired the property in 2010 as part of its Panther Island acquisitions, according to the TAD website.

Second, there is still no clear indication of when the Corps of Engineers will allocate money for the project that is supposed to help with flood control in the downtown area.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX-12) said in July at the opening of the North Main Street Bridge that she expects at least some federal funding in 2022 to begin work on the bypass channel.

“In the three years I’ve been affiliated with this group, we’ve received no funding,” James Hill, board member of the Trinity River Vision Authority said of the controversial Panther Island project at a board meeting in September 2020.

The project has been scrutinized for years due to financial mismanagement and transparency concerns. In 2019, it was reviewed by Riveron, a third-party advisory firm, who made recommendations about the governance of the project.

Original cost estimates in 2006 for the project were $435 million. Riveron now estimates the project will likely cost nearly $1.2 billion to complete — roughly three times the original estimates.  

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Kim Roberts

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.

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