Texas Sen. John Cornyn added his name Friday to the list of leaders who believe the Panther Island project needs to focus on flood control in order to meet muster for federal funding.
Much like post-Hurricane Harvey projects, Panther Island, a $1.16 billion re-channel of the Trinity River, should focus on future flood mitigation, said, said Cornyn, the GOP’s No. 2 in the Senate. The project has been billed as a flood control tool, but the island and urban lake it would create has been eyed for development and a boon for the Fort Worth economy.
“Basically it should be about protecting the community,” Cornyn said.
Federal officials skipped Panther Island funding in this year’s budget while other Texas flood control projects, including one on the Trinity River in Dallas, received money. Texas officials, including Cornyn, boasted about securing those dollars for Texas, but have remained quiet about Panther Island.
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Congress approved the project for nearly $530 million in federal funds in 2016, and about $60 million has been doled out. This year it was excluded from the federal budget, however, under a White House budget office run by former South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney.
The Army Corps of Engineers says the project remains authorized and eligible for future funding. Spokesman Clay Church last month told The Star-Telegram that options were being explored, but since Congress did away with earmarks, lawmakers have struggled to direct funds toward specific projects. Roughly $80 billion projects across the country are waiting for funding, the Trump administration says.
A White House Office of Management and Budget official meanwhile told Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price at meetings in Washington earlier this year that an economic study of the project is needed.
Cornyn, speaking to reporters after a luncheon with the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition Luncheon in Fort Worth, echoed that concern on Friday and said a cost-benefit analysis would be required.
Roughly 75 percent of the projects studied by the Corps don’t meet the cost-to-benefit ratio that is required to be part of the executive branch’s budget, a source told The Star-Telegram in October.
A full analysis would help find that required ratio, Cornyn said.
“That would be logical next step,” he said.
Cornyn is up for re-election in 2020, and must give up his role as whip when GOP senators pick their new leaders this month.
Both Cornyn and Price Tuesday said they would work together to ensure the project fits federal requirements.
Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth has fought for the project as a powerful appropriator, directing money home. Her son, J.D. Granger, is Panther Island’s top executive.
Separate from a cost-benefit study, Panther Island now faces an independent review.
Though the scope of the investigation remains unclear, those supporting it said it should analyze finances, management and progress. The Trinity River Vision Authority board approved the review earlier on Tuesday with a goal of having an independent firm lined up by the end of this year or early next year.
“Let’s focus on the channel, which is the flood control piece and go forward from there,” she said.