For the third year in-a-row Fort Worth’s Panther Island project has failed to receive federal funding, raising more concerns about the future of the plan to re-shape the area just north of downtown Fort Worth.
In its newly released 2019 "work plan" budget the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers again left the Panther Island project off the list, deciding instead to direct federal flood prevention money to other projects across the country.
Project planners at the Tarrant Regional Water District/Trinity River Vision Authority have been counting on more than $400 million in federal funds to finish the massive effort which is already underway.
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But on Monday a TRVA spokesman seemed to brush aside the latest denial of federal funds saying there was still good news for the project.
“We look forward to continuing to work with The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on this important flood control project. USACE will continue to work on the Central City Project using previously appropriated federal funds. The great news is that we continue to move full speed ahead and follow our critical path schedule,” said Matt Oliver, a spokesman for the Trinity River Vision Authority.
There are some existing federal funds to continue project planning, but without at least $250 million to dig the river bypass channel, the bridges now taking shape north of downtown may end up over dry land instead of the urban waterfront that planners have envisioned. Or, local officials may have to come up with another plan to fund additional aspects of construction.
In Washington D.C., Panther Island has come under fire with some critics arguing the project is more about creating a luxury development than controlling floodwaters.
Others have questioned whether federal funds should be spent on a project lead by the son of Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-Fort Worth). Her son, J.D. Granger leads the Trinity River Vision Authority.
And, as NBC 5 Investigates first reported last week, a third member of the Granger family will be soon be involved in the project as J.D. Granger is engaged to Shanna Cate, a project director at the TRVA who is also involved in various aspects of developing the island.
“There is a lot of competition for these federal dollars going to Army Corps of Engineer projects so when you have something like a family member being involved and raising concerns about nepotism its just going to be another mark against the project,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan watchdog group that has opposed the project.
For more than two weeks, J.D. Granger and Rep. Kay Granger have not responded to NBC 5’s questions about the family’s involvement in the project. At a recent meeting J.D. Granger brushed aside questions saying the project is “doing well” because it has received some federal funds over the last 12 years.
On Tuesday, members of the Tarrant Regional Water District Board are scheduled to meet to consider terms of a comprehensive review of the project, requested by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price who has raised concerns recently about the project’s prospects in Washington.
Price was in city pension meetings late Monday and not available to comment on the latest federal funding decision.