Why Pan­ther Is­land might strug­gle to get fed­eral fund­ing,

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY BILL HANNA AND LUKE RANKER bill­hanna@star-tele­gram.com lranker@star-tele­gram.com Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna Luke Ranker: 817-390-7747, @ lrankerNEWS

Pan­ther Is­land will have dif­fi­culty get­ting in­cluded in the pres­i­dent’s bud­get be­cause of its in­abil­ity to meet the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers re­quire­ments, a source fa­mil­iar with the project said.

Roughly 75 per­cent of the projects stud­ied by the Corps don’t meet the ben­e­fit-cost ra­tio that is re­quired to be part of the ex­ec­u­tive branch’s bud­get.

Pan­ther Is­land could be built com­pletely with lo­cal fund­ing if it ob­tained the proper Corps per­mits, said the source, who re­quested anonymity be­cause his firm doesn’t al­low its em­ploy­ees to be iden­ti­fied. Last May, vot­ers ap­proved spend­ing up to $250 mil­lion for Pan­ther Is­land project.

But this week, the Fort Worth City Coun­cil said a re­view should be done be­fore the city con­sid­ers an ex­ten­sion of a tax in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing dis­trict in the area. Rev­enue from the dis­trict would be used to pay for the bonds.

Mayor Betsy Price also sug­gested that the project may need to be scaled back to just flood pro­tec­tion in an at­tempt to se­cure fed­eral fund­ing.

Tar­rant County Judge Glen Whit­ley also called for a re­view of the project Thurs­day, say­ing there is a need for some­one to reeval­u­ate all phases of the project. Whit­ley said each de­tail should be re-ex­am­ined and costs should be up­dated.

“At the same time, we should clar­ify, as best we can, the dol­lars ab­so­lutely com­mit­ted to the project and if there are any strings at­tached to those com­mit- ments,” Whit­ley said via email. “Once this is done, then the par­ties should meet and make a new plan. This would in­clude the Corps, the Wa­ter Board, the City and the County. As we dis­cussed, I feel that the top pri­or­ity should be the flood con­trol items, but ev­ery­one needs to come to an agree­ment on how to pro­ceed. Then in the fu­ture as more funds be­come avail­able then other things can be added.”

The Tar­rant Re­gional Wa­ter Dis­trict has sched­uled a spe­cial meet­ing for 8:30 a.m. Tues­day and is ex­pected to con­sider a third-party re­view of Pan­ther Is­land.

The $1.16 bil­lion flood con­trol and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment project didn’t re­ceive fund­ing for fis­cal year 2018. So far, it has re­ceived $62 mil­lion from the fed­eral gov­ern- ment. Com­plet­ing the project as planned would re­quire the en­tire $526 mil­lion that Con­gress has ap­proved.

In an email re­sponse to ques­tions, Army Corps of En­gi­neers spokesman Clay Church said the agency is con­fi­dent that the project will even­tu­ally re­ceive fed­eral fund­ing.

But not be­ing in­cluded in the pres­i­dent’s bud­get makes it far more dif­fi­cult to ever ob­tain the full $526 mil­lion that has been au­tho­rized by Con­gress. That puts it in the same pool of dis­cre­tionary funds with other Corps projects that didn’t make the pres­i­dent’s bud­get, the source said.

Jim Lane, a mem­ber of the Tar­rant Re­gional Wa­ter Dis­trict board of di­rec­tors, is a long-time sup­porter of the project. The Trin­ity River Vi­sion Author­ity, which over­sees Pan­ther Is­land, is a po­lit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sion of the wa­ter dis­trict.

He will sup­port an au­dit or re­view of the project, though he ques­tions the ne­ces­sity for it.

“To me, it’s not an is­sue,” Lane said. “If they want to have an au­dit, they need to re­al­ize to pay their part of it.”

Matt Oliver, a Trin­ity River Vi­sion Author­ity spokesman, said in an email ear­lier this week that the author­ity has al­ways been an ad­vo­cate for third-party re­views re­lated to the project.

Lane said noth­ing has changed about fed­eral fund­ing for the project de­spite the mayor and City Coun­cil’s con­cerns.

“We’ve al­ways said that the project re­lies on fed­eral and state fund­ing and there may be times dur­ing the process where it’s slowed down,” Lane said. “If the Corps had to di­vert funds for hur­ri­cane and flood re­lief this year, then they made the right de­ci­sion.”

U..S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, has con­tin­ued to say the fund­ing will be there for the project, Lane said. Granger has not re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

A scaled-down ver­sion of the project that would only deal with flood pro­tec­tion might look dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent.

Un­der that sce­nario, any­thing not con­sid­ered flood pro­tec­tion would be stripped out of the project, in­clud­ing parks and sewer lines. But it would still in­clude the all-im­por­tant by­pass chan­nel.

“Sit down with the Corps and strip it down to the bare bones,” the source said. “Look for those other ameni­ties in other fed­eral pro­grams and pri­vate fund­ing.”

Could a scaled-down project make it into the pres­i­dent’s bud­get?

“That’s un­known,” the source said. “De­pends on the cal­cu­la­tion of ben­e­fits that arise from hav­ing the flood pro­tec­tion in place.”

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