Fort Worth's $1.2B Panther Island raises questions
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Fort Worth's nearly $1.2 billion Panther Island project is pitched as a flood control measure that would bring a vibrant riverfront neighborhood to the city, but critics are questioning whether it's disguised as a flood plan to tap into federal money.
The Army Corps of Engineers quietly excluded the project from its 2018 budget, which led to concerns about management of the project that would cut a channel in Trinity River and form an island.
Backers have said the project will pull thousands of acres of Fort Worth real estate out of a flood plain, while boosting the local economy with new commercial and residential space. But opponents are claiming that Panther Island ignores real flooding issues, the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph reported .
Fort Worth's 21 miles (34 kilometers) of levees along Trinity River can no longer protect the city from a major flooding event, said Woody Frossard, an engineer with the Tarrant Regional Water District.
But the Panther Island plan doesn't alleviate urban flash flooding that has increasingly plagued Fort Worth streets. Instead, it pulls about 2,400 acres (970 hectares) out of the flood plain for potentially the most severe flood possible for the region.
Engineers believe the project would protect several neighborhoods along the river. It would also make about 800 acres (320 hectares) ripe for development.
The changes from the project would lead Trinity River's water to flow more quickly downstream during a flood stage, toward cities such as Dallas. The plans call for overflow basins to be built to slow the flow of water, which opponents argue doesn't make sense.
"They're creating a flood situation to take a flood situation," said Clyde Picht, who voted in support of the project when he was on City Council. Picht and others have criticized the project's rising costs and lengthy timeline.
The project was estimated to cost less than $500 million in 2005, and its ballooned over $1 billion nearly 15 years later.
Voters passed a $250 million bond last year, which will pay for infrastructure on the island and some flood control. A special 40-year tax district was also established to help fund development.
Officials have said that the project may not be completed for another 15 years.
Lynn Lovell, a retired Fort Worth engineer, said the timeline is normal for major federal projects, which can be stalled by funding.
"Funding these projects is competitive nationwide," he said. "It just depends on Congress' mood and how powerful the congressional delegation is."
Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com