Earmarks battle could delay FW Trinity River Vision project



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Posted on March 12, 2010 at 8:02 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 12 at 8:42 PM

FORT WORTH - Developers of the biggest project ever in Fort Worth said a battle over federal funding won't leave the Trinity River Vision dead in the water.

The biggest part of that plan would create a waterfront community north of downtown. The cost of the project has ballooned to nearly $1 billion.

Developers had counted on millions of dollars in earmarks from Washington, but they may have to go without thanks to votes on an earmark moratorium.

House Republicans and Democrats are competing with each other to cut back on earmarks, a controversial way to fund pet projects. But, one of those pet project that needs tens of millions in earmarks is the Trinity River Vision, about the biggest development ever in Fort Worth.

The Trinity River Vision would virtually double the downtown area by adding a river bypass to control flooding and create an inner-city lake and San Antonio-style river front.

"We're doing the exact same thing, but on a larger scale," said JD Granger, Trinity River Vision Authority. "Smart flood protection that creates 12 miles of developable land."
Granger heads the Trinity River Vision Authority, which has already received $52-million in federal earmarks and has applied for another $52 million this year. 

It's a favorite project of Granger's mother, Congress member and former Fort Worth mayor Kay Granger. But, she and her GOP colleagues have sworn off earmarks.
"If federal funding did slow down, we would slow down the project," Granger said.

He said the target completion date is 2021. The longer it takes, the higher the price goes. It's already projected at just under $1 billion, but half of that is already committed  local money. Granger said he's spent only a fraction of his federal funds so far.

"We see no - at least for the next few years - no impact on our schedule, minimal impact," he said.

Critics aren't so confidant.

"Was this ever proper use for earmark money?" said Clyde Picht, a former Fort Worth City Council member. "No, it's economic development."

Picht said earmarks are bound to get scarcer as the federal deficit soars and the public clamors for restraint.

"I think it's a death knell, almost," Picht said.

There appears to be plenty of money to keep going for now. In fact, the Corps of Engineers inked a contract Friday that could have a lot of dirt moving within weeks.

The House is expected to resume earmarks next year, and the Senate never stopped. The fight over earmarks is threatening other Fort Worth projects, including a new fire and police training academy and housing for the homeless.

E-mail: jdouglas@wfaa.com