Why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wants That $15 Million Back from the City

No doubt you recall: A couple of weeks ago we discovered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants the city to pay back $15 million in federal funds doled out for the Dallas Floodway Extension project. Problem is, we don't have it -- at least, not all of it. Rebecca Rasor, director of the Trinity River Corridor Project, told the council committee on September 12 that $8 million of it's been spent; on what, exactly, she didn't say, but the Corps now says "to purchase real estate for the project." The Trinity committee didn't discuss the subject long; after retiring to executive session, chair Vonciel Jones Hill said the City Attorney's Office was going to handle it. So ... there.

Sources say the city and the Corps are talking about how to resolve the matter, but they're not on the same page. Because far as the city's concerned, it spent the money as it was intended -- on the Floodway Extension project -- so what's the difference whether the Corps pays cash money for it now or repays the city's bills later. Which is not how the Corps sees it.

Noting that the issue will resurface on the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee's agenda for Monday, I went looking for more information. And I just came across this: a press release issued by the Corps exactly one week after the subject came to council, in which Col. Richard J. Muraski Jr. -- the commander of the Fort Worth District who will also appear before council on Monday to discuss the Dallas Floodway System -- outlines the Corps's position. Says Muraski, "We provided $15 million cash to the City of Dallas for the Dallas Floodway Extension project when we weren't authorized to do so. This was discovered during a routine annual budgetary review in FY2010. We notified the City on Sept. 10, 2010, and have been working with them since that time to minimize the impact of the repayment."

The release continues:

Although the $15 million provided to the City of Dallas should not have happened, these funds cannot be viewed as a federal grant. Correcting this financial accounting issue will not change the City's total financial outlay to support this important public safety project, but will bring the project back into compliance with the authorizing language and the construction contract.

Of the $15 million, approximately $8 million has been spent, most of which was used to purchase real estate for the project. In the absence of the federal funds, the City would have had to obtain these funds from other sources in order to advance the project as they have been able to do. The City will now shoulder the expense for future real estate purchases as part of their contributions to the project. The City's repayment of this unauthorized cash payment does not increase or otherwise change the amount of money the City is responsible for paying for the project.

I've left a message for Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan, who, perhaps, can clarify where the money was spent and how that payback plan's coming.

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