In a major blow to the city of Fort Worth, no new federal dollars are going towards rerouting the Trinity River in the much-delayed and over-budget “Panther Island” project, NBC 5 News has learned.
Word that no new construction money would be available in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ 2020 work plan budget was also a setback for U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, the powerful Republican from Fort Worth who has championed the project from its beginning.
The developments mean no water will flow anytime soon under three problem-plagued bridges that are still under construction on Panther Island, costing millions of local taxpayer dollars.
Project organizers had hoped for about $30 million this year to keep the project on track and complete the design of the bypass channel that would go under the bridges and form the island.
The bad news came as Granger, a former Fort Worth mayor who has been in Congress since 1997, is locked in a tough primary race with former Colleyville City Councilman Chris Putnam.
Reached by NBC 5, Granger declined to comment.
But Putnam called for an investigation.
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"Panther Island was never a flood control project so it's absolutely no surprise that federal funding has once again been denied," Putnam said. "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."
For years, Granger's supporters have expressed confidence she would find a way to unleash federal dollars to complete Panther Island, now estimated to cost nearly $1.2 billion.
“Kay Granger will make it happen. She always has,” Jim Lane, a member of the Tarrant Regional Water District, said in 2018. “She’s as tough as they come, as smart as they come. If she says the money will be available, I bet the money will be available."
But as NBC 5 Investigates has reported, the project has come under attack in Washington – from some who have questioned whether federal money for a flood control project should also be used to create a luxury island development.
Others have questioned the optics of funding a project that was, until recently, headed by Granger’s son.
J.D. Granger served as executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, which oversaw Panther Island work. But his job description recently changed, giving him direct involvement in flood control work, but not in the island’s real estate development.
Both he and his mother have insisted through the years that Panther Island would be completed.
“But it may slow down. It might. We have been very candid about that,” J.D. Granger said in 2018.
In a statement, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said she was disappointed in the news but "will continue to collaborate with our local partners, this (Trump) administration and our delegation in Washington on this critical flood control project."
Price added: "I believe this is an opportunity to bring private partners to the table and explore public-private partnerships."
A spokesman for the TRWD told NBC 5 they would not have an immediate comment, saying the district is still determining the meaning behind what it believes is a release of more than $1 million to conduct a feasibility study.
What is certain, the spokesman said, is that there is no new funding for construction.
Meanwhile, a local spokesman for the Army Corp of Engineers said it would continue working on the project with funds it has already received. But he stressed there is not enough cash on hand to complete the design of the waterway, the channel or to start digging.