Texas se­cures money for flood con­trol, but not in Fort Worth

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY AN­DREA DR­USCH adr­usch@mc­clatchydc.com

Pow­er­ful Texas law­mak­ers are tak­ing credit for se­cur­ing bil­lions of dol­lars for flood con­trol projects across the state this year — but not Fort Worth’s Pan­ther Is­land.

The flood con­trol and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment project was qui­etly cut from the fed­eral bud­get by an ad­min­is­tra­tion that says it’s a low pri­or­ity for fed­eral fund­ing. Mean­while a dif­fer­ent Trin­ity River project in Dal­las this year re­ceived roughly $275,000 in fed­eral funds des­ig­nated for “dis­as­ter re­cov­ery” in the wake of Hurri- cane Har­vey.

Texas’s well-con­nected law­mak­ers have re­mained largely quiet about the Pan­ther Is­land project’s fu­ture, leav­ing Fort Worth’s lo­cal of­fi­cials to lobby on its be­half in Wash­ing­ton.

“We are specif­i­cally seek­ing fund­ing for the flood and by­pass chan­nels, which pro­vides the largest flood con­trol ben­e­fit,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.

Price met with Jim Hertz, di­rec­tor of nat­u­ral re­sources pro­grams at the White House Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, on Sept. 27 and Oct. 11

to dis­cuss the project. Hertz con­firmed that Pan­ther Is­land is not in the bud­get for the 2019 fis­cal year, and its el­i­gi­bil­ity for fed­eral fund­ing is in ques­tion, Price told the Star-Tele­gram Thurs­day.

“We must find out why the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is not ful­fill­ing its com­mit­ment to this project and find a way for­ward,” she added of the project, which Con­gress ap­proved for up to $526 mil­lion in fed­eral fund­ing in 2016.

In a re­cent press call about flood con­trol projects in other parts of the state, Texas Sen. John Cornyn directed a StarTele­gram ques­tion about Pan­ther Is­land to his staff, who later said the sen­a­tor sup­ports the project and “hopes the ad­min­is­tra­tion will make it a pri­or­ity.”

Cornyn serves as No. 2 in Se­nate GOP lead­er­ship. His staff de­clined to pro- vide de­tails about his work on Pan­ther Is­land.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also de­clined a ques­tion from the Star-Tele­gram about the project’s fu­ture this month, de­spite cam­paign­ing hard on his work help­ing flood re­cov­ery ef­forts in Hous­ton where he lives.

Cruz ag­gres­sively touted his close White House con­nec­tions in a rally for his re-elec­tion race with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump this week. His of­fice de­clined to say whether he’d been in­volved in seek­ing fund­ing for Pan­ther Is­land’s flood con­trol el­e­ments.

Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott, whose of­fice worked with the Army Corps on dis­tribut­ing $5 bil­lion for dis­as­ter re­lief and preven­tion, did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests for com­ment.

“Fort Worth res­i­dents have ex­pe­ri­enced de­lays, watched as roads have re­mained torn up and busi­nesses have been neg­a­tively im­pacted,” Price said. “The lo­cal tax­pay­ers de­serve an­swers.”

Among the frus­tra­tions of those try­ing to se­cure fund­ing for Pan­ther Is­land is Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger’s fam­ily con­nec­tion to the project. Her son, J.D. Granger, re­ceives a pub­lic salary to over­see it, cre­at­ing poor op­tics in Wash­ing­ton, said a source fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions about the project’s fund­ing who re­quested anonymity to speak can­didly about the sit­u­a­tion.

Kay Granger is a pow­er­ful House ap­pro­pri­a­tor who has worked to di­rect money back home to the project. Granger’s of­fice and the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Pro­po­nents of the project also gripe that its on­line plans fo­cus too heav­ily on Pan­ther Is­land’s re­cre­ation el­e­ments, de­spite be­ing ap­proved for fed­eral fund­ing as a flood con­trol project in the Army Corps Civil Works pro­gram.

“It doesn’t look like a flood con­trol, it looks like eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” said the source.

This week Price called for a full au­dit of the project, as well as a po­ten­tial change in scope to fo­cus on the flood con­trol el­e­ments.

The wa­ter dis­trict board will meet at 8:30 a.m. Tues­day to con­sider a re­view of the project.

Granger, on the other hand, in­sists the money will even­tu­ally come to con­tinue the project as planned. She’s seek­ing her party’s top role on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee when GOP chair­man Rod­ney Frel­inghuy­sen re­tires at the end of the year.

Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore­gon, one of the project’s big­gest crit­ics, is also in line for a pro­mo­tion on the in­flu­en­tial House Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee, if Democrats take con­trol of the House this fall. DeFazio serves as the high­est-rank­ing Demo­crat, and could serve as

chair­man of the full panel if Democrats flip 23 seats held by Repub­li­cans.

DeFazio sought to kill some of Pan­ther Is­land’s re­cre­ation el­e­ments back in 2016 — by re­quir­ing the eco­nomic anal­y­sis that ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials now cite among their rea­sons for not fund­ing the project.

Emails ob­tained by a source and shared with the Star-Tele­gram show Fort Worth Rep. Marc Veasey, a fel­low Demo­crat, worked to stop DeFazio’s pro­vi­sion at the time by tes­ti­fy­ing against it and host­ing one-on-one meet­ings with fel­low law­mak­ers.

Reached by phone this week Veasey again de­fended the eco­nomic anal­y­sis as un­nec­es­sary, cit­ing a dif­fer­ent study from the Univer­sity of North Texas. Veasey said he’s not in­volved in lob­by­ing the White House or Army Corps on a project de­signed to ad­dress flood risks in his dis­trict.

“Flood con­trol is the main com­po­nent, but as with any of these flood con­trol projects that you see across the coun­try, there’s an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment [com­po­nent],” said Veasey. “All of those things need to be worked out.”

“[Fort Worth has] lost Ra­dio Shack, [and] XTO moved all of their jobs, vir­tu­ally, down to Hous­ton af­ter Exxon bought the com­pany,” he added. “We need to fig­ure out how we’re go­ing to make the city more at­trac­tive and bring more jobs in, and there needs to be con­fi­dence that tax­pay­ers’ money is be­ing fairly spent.”

TRIN­ITY RIVER VI­SION AUTHOR­ITY

A ren­der­ing of Pan­ther Is­land.

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