During a hearing in front of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on March 27, officials from the Army Corps of Engineers testified to Congress about the Central City project, also known as the Trinity River Vision project in Fort Worth.
Responding to a question from Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, two Army Corps officials voiced support for the project and for other projects that have yet to be funded.
“I very strongly support the project and I’m not sure the administration doesn’t support the project,” said R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “They’re trying to elevate projects based on their priorities, economic return to the nation, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”
Rep. Kay Granger, the highest-ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, released the following statement on the commitment.
“The Central City project is my top priority, it is vital to the future of Fort Worth,” she said in a statement. “Assistant Secretary of the Army, R.D. James, expressed his strong support of the project and the Army Corps of Engineers committed to completing Central City.”
James said he had talked to Granger about the project.
“I have talked with Ms. Granger before and intend to do so again to see if there are other ways or other authorizations this project needs. At this time I don’t know of any.
“It’s a good project. There have been misunderstandings about the project.”
Next week, the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors is expected to agree to a review of the project.
The push for a comprehensive review began several months ago after Mayor Betsy Price said she was informed by federal Management and Budget officials that the project failed to receive funding in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work budget for the past three cycles because it has an economic development component and is not just flood control.
A federal appropriation of $26 million is needed in 2020 and another $35 million is required in 2021 to keep the $1.16 billion project on schedule for completion in 2028.
Local officials are hoping that Rep. Kay Granger will secure a federal appropriation in the 2020 budget for at least some of the money. Granger, the chief advocate in Washington, D.C. for the Panther Island project, is now the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Nearly $322 million in local money has already been invested in the project along with about $108 million from various federal agencies. Only $60.5 million has come from the Corps, which is supposed to be the chief federal funder for the flood control portion that involves replacing aging levees with a channel and rerouting a 1.5-mile stretch of the Trinity River north of the Tarrant County Courthouse.
The channel would create a center island, to be known as Panther Island. A San Antonio-style riverwalk and new recreation amenities are among the planned improvements.
During the 14 years that the project has been underway, the cost has ballooned from initial estimates of $360 million to the current level of $1.16 billion. Community activists have pushed back against the cost and scope of the project, labeling it “The Boondoggle.”
Voters approved a $250 million bond issue last year for this project and it’s possible some of that money could go toward digging the channel, officials said. The Fort Worth City Council has yet to decide whether a tax finance district that was created to support development of the project should be extended from 40 to 50 years to provide extra time to pay off the bond debt.