Last Tuesday, the Fort Worth City Council voted unanimously to endorse recommendations from a third party to reform a 16-year-long, over $1.1 billion taxpayer-funded redevelopment scheme. However, the two bureaucrats in charge have chosen to ignore two key aspects of the recommendations.

In 2019, after years of cost overruns and delays, a third-party firm was hired to perform a programmatic review of the project known as Panther Island. Conceived in 2003, Panther Island is a massive government plan to reroute the Trinity River via a 1.5-mile bypass—and redevelop prime Fort Worth real estate—all under the guise of flood control.

The review found Panther Island has so far cost taxpayers more than $383 million—with zero construction completed. Even worse, cost estimates for the projects have exploded from $435 million in 2006 to more than $1.168 billion in 2018.

On top of a runaway price tag, the project’s completion date has been delayed until 2028, dependent on whether the project receives federal taxpayer funds of over $600 million.

The review also found administrative bloat in the budget of the Trinity River Vision Authority—the entity created in 2006 to oversee the project—including more than $220,000 in public relations propaganda. It also found that J.D. Granger, son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger and head of the TRVA, colluded with Tarrant Regional Water District General Manager Jim Oliver to keep the TRVA board in the dark.

J.D. Granger was hired to head the agency even though he lacked any previous work experience for a project of this size and scope.

Sources in Tarrant County have alleged that the Trump administration, which froze federal funds for the project last year, wants both Granger and Oliver removed from the project before restoring said funds.

Riveron, the third-party organization that conducted the review, made several recommendations, including creating a wall of separation between the TRVA Executive Director—Granger—and the TRWD General Manager—Oliver.

Fort Worth City Council voted unanimously last Tuesday to endorse the recommendations made by Riveron. However, weeks earlier, Granger and Oliver both confirmed that nothing will change, and Granger will continue reporting to Oliver.

“Right now, I’ve been under both Jim [Oliver] and TRVA,” Granger said. “I’m still going to be under Jim, no matter what.”

“J.D. Granger is still going to run the project” known as Panther Island, Oliver wrote in an email to Texas Scorecard. “The TRVA, as it exists today, will be absorbed into TRWD. JD will remain as executive director or its equivalent and will have virtually the same responsibilities as he has today.”

Texas Scorecard sent inquiries to Mayor Betsy Price and every member of the city council regarding Granger’s and Oliver’s statements. They were also asked if they will continue to support the city backing the TRVA project if Oliver and Granger ignore the council’s vote and Riveron’s recommendations.

A similar inquiry was sent to Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and Tarrant County’s commissioners; so far, none of the officials have answered our inquiries. Both local governments are key stakeholders in the scheme.

Tarrant County is “responsible for contributing funds to the project.” Fort Worth is “responsible for the utilities on and under the land, and for overseeing the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) on bridge design and construction management and oversight.”

Taxpayers concerned about Panther Island may contact the elected members of the Fort Worth City Council and Tarrant County Commissioners Court.

The full review from Riveron can be found here.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.