Posted inLocal Government

How is Fort Worth paying to clear the way for Panther Island? It’s complicated

Facing mounting pressure to find millions for construction related to the Central City / Panther Island project, Fort Worth officials have identified a long-term solution to their funding dilemma. 

The city is on a tight schedule to relocate water and sewer utilities and make way for a 1.5-mile bypass channel rerouting part of the Trinity River. To meet deadlines set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is building the channel, the city must complete relocations within the north bypass channel by next summer and within the south bypass channel by fall 2024. 

Construction has already begun near North Main Street in the Northside, and more is expected to kick off in July. City staff expect the total price tag for utility relocations to be anywhere between $53.8 million and $60.5 million. 

The Tarrant Regional Water District will reimburse the city on an annual basis, drawing from $250 million in flood control bonds approved by voters in 2018. Until that reimbursement payment arrives each September, the city is on the hook for the upfront dollars to pay contractors, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage

That’s what led city officials to pull $14 million originally set aside for other flood mitigation projects in April and put it toward Central City. Assistant city manager Dana Burghdoff later vowed that the 11 affected projects, several of which were already completed, will not be delayed as a result of the temporary funding shift. 

During their June 13 meeting, Fort Worth City Council members approved a similar move for utility relocations on NE 8th Street and Calhoun Street. To pay for a $9.2 million contract, Fort Worth is pulling funds from three stormwater projects completed under budget and reallocating millions set aside for future Central City work. 

City staff have found a more permanent fix going forward. If approved by council members on June 27, the city will begin issuing up to $100 million in short-term debt notes known as “commercial paper.” 

Corporations and municipalities typically use commercial paper to finance short-term liabilities, including payroll or inventories. Dallas Water Utilities also maintains a commercial paper program, as does Harris County and a number of other agencies across Texas.

Commercial paper is usually issued at a discount from face value, and the final payment is due within one to 270 days. When the 270 days, or nine months, are up, the commercial paper can be rolled for a new nine-month period at a new interest rate. 

The city estimates it will need to issue about $50.7 million in commercial paper from JP Morgan for stormwater projects. That debt will accrue about $1.5 million in interest by the time Central City utility relocations are completed, according to a staff report. 

“This enables the city to move forward with Fort Worth Central City Drainage Projects without negatively impacting or delaying other stormwater capital projects and also provides the stormwater program with the ability to more quickly implement stormwater capital projects in the future,” Lara Ingram, a spokesperson for the transportation and public works department, said by email.    

Fort Worth considered two short-term funding options: a direct placement bank loan and a commercial paper program, said Alex Laufer, the city’s debt manager. 

The city already has similar commercial paper programs in place for water and sewer capital projects. Capital projects involve construction of new facilities or significant, long-term improvements to existing facilities. 

“The recommendation to move forward with the commercial paper program was supported by lower estimated borrowing costs and the added flexibility of utilizing the program as appropriation authority for future capital projects,” Laufer said in a statement. 

Fort Worth will waste no time in taking advantage of the new funding structure. During their June 27 meeting, City Council members are also expected to vote on a $34.8 million contract with S.J. Louis Construction supported by the new commercial paper program.

The contract approval will give S.J. Louis the go-ahead to move sewer mains along North Henderson Street and Jacksboro Highway, near the Henderson Street Bazaar and the Texas Golden Gloves gym. Northside residents and commuters can expect lane closures over the coming months, as S.J. Louis has only 500 days to complete the job. 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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