Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price says it's "full steam ahead" on the Panther Island project after meeting with top White House officials about reversing stalled federal funding.
The federal government initially agreed to spend more than $500 million on the $1.2 billion flood-control project, which would re-route the Trinity River, create an island, spark economic development and essentially double the size of downtown.
The money was appropriated but never spent and federal funding has slowed to a trickle in recent years even as local and state taxpayers have poured in millions.
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Price said she asked Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican whose district stretches from south of Fort Worth to Austin, for help because he is close to the White House budget office.
He arranged a meeting with acting chief of staff and budget director Mick Mulvaney and Derek Kan, the budget office's executive associate director, Price said.
"I'm pretty frank if nothing else," she said. "I just laid it on the line and said, 'We need your help.'"
Notably absent from the meeting was Rep. Kay Granger, whose district includes Panther Island and whose son, J.D. Granger, runs the project.
Price said even though Granger wasn't aware of the meeting because it came together so quickly, the two have been working together to try to get funding.
"She's on board with what we've done and she's working with us to move it forward," Price said.
Price said hopes of getting the full $500 million that the federal government initially committed are bleak.
She said the federal government would likely fund $250 million, which would pay for the bypass channel.
It's unclear how and when the money would be doled out.
"We're moving the project forward and that's what people need to know," Price said. "Full steam ahead at this point."
In a telephone interview, Williams said he was happy to help arrange the meeting.
"It's exciting," he said. "The mayor did a good job. We were able to get everyone engaged."
He said White House officials made it clear they were interested in funding flood control – and not economic development.
"Bottom line was, what they want is bare-bones flood control," Williams said.
Granger declined to be interviewed but her spokesman, Steve Moffitt, emailed a statement.
"I am hopeful that funding will be restarted," Granger said in the statement.
Granger said she had her own "positive meeting" with the Office of Management and Budget and that officials "expressed a strong appreciation for the briefing."
Moffitt said he could not say when the congresswoman's meeting was or with whom she met.
Matt Oliver, a spokesman for Trinity River Vision Authority, which is managing the project, also emailed a statement.
"This has always been a community project and it's going to take the entire community to get it across the finish line. It's the next step to bringing the needed flood protection to Fort Worth," Oliver said.
A senior administration official confirmed new discussions are underway but stopped short of promising future funding.
"Meetings and conversations regarding the plan for Panther Island are ongoing," he said. "We are hopeful that an outcome can be reached that addresses the key concerns of every stakeholder."
Two weeks ago, a consultant's report faulted the water district's management structure of the project and suggested forming a nonprofit to handle economic development and creating a risk management office.