Board members responsible for overseeing Fort Worth’s billion-dollar redevelopment project hired a federal bureaucrat to run the agency in place of a congresswoman’s son, J.D. Granger. Despite his replacement allegedly taking over executive responsibilities, Granger will keep his job at a notable cost to taxpayers.
Panther Island is a massive government plan conceived in 2003 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.
It is a joint venture involving the White House, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Tarrant County, the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), City of Fort Worth, and the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA). The TRVA is tasked with coordinating the project.
With the support of Jim Oliver, General Manager of the Trinity Regional Water District, J.D. Granger—son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger—was hired in 2006 to head the Trinity River Vision Authority. Granger was hired even though he lacked any related education or prior work experience, let alone with a project of Panther Island’s immense size and scope.
In 2019, after 13 years of cost overruns and delays, a third-party firm was hired to perform a programmatic review of the troubled project.
The review, conducted by Riveron, found Granger’s Panther Island had cost taxpayers more than $383 million as of 2018—with zero aspect of construction completed. It also found only the design phase was “100 percent” finished. TRWD’s lawyers, however, contradicted this claim in a letter to the Texas Attorney General, in response to an open records request submitted by Texas Scorecard.
Cost estimates under Granger’s mismanagement have exploded from $435 million in 2006 to more than $1.17 billion in 2018. On top of a runaway price tag, the project’s completion date has been delayed until 2028, dependent on whether it receives $600 million in taxpayer support from the federal government.
The Riveron review found that Granger colluded with Oliver to keep the TRVA board in the dark, which muddled transparency and led to managerial dysfunction within the agency. Last year, the Trump administration pulled all federal funding, putting completion at risk. Sources in Tarrant County told Texas Scorecard the Trump administration allegedly will not restore funding until Granger and Oliver are removed from the project.
Granger and Oliver told Texas Scorecard in October they are not leaving. Despite their claims, the TRVA board voted on November 13 to move forward on a “consulting contract” with Mark Mazzanti, who will be paid $25,000 a month, or $300,000 per year, to be “Program Coordinator.”
Mazzanti comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), where he currently serves as Director of Programs for its Southwestern Division in Dallas. His resume shows extensive engineering experience, including overseeing the Mississippi River and Tributaries project—in stark contrast with Granger, a lawyer and former assistant district attorney.
Mazzanti’s hire raises an obvious question: If he’s taking over the troubled project, why is Granger keeping his six-figure job and reporting to Oliver?
According to Oliver in an email to Texas Scorecard in October, “J.D. Granger is still going to run the project.”
“The TRVA, as it exists today, will be absorbed into [the] TRWD. JD will remain as executive director or its equivalent and will have virtually the same responsibilities as he has today.”
“Right now, I’ve been under both Jim [Oliver] and TRVA,” Granger said in October. “I’m still going to be under Jim, no matter what.”
TRVA Board Chairman and Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius was shocked when asked for a response to Oliver’s and Granger’s responses. “Mr. Granger is working for the TRWD. The TRVA is a coordinating effort,” Maenius said. “It’s my understanding that Mr. Granger, because the water district has responsibilities for flood control, that he will be working in that area [and] in other areas also that he will be assigned by [Oliver].”
The conflicting responses from Oliver, Granger, and TRVA board members about Granger’s role suggest rampant disfunction will continue to plague the billion-dollar boondoggle.
Since USACE is the federal stakeholder responsible for assisting with the project’s alleged flood control aspects, Maenius was asked if Mazzanti had been involved during his time with the federal government. “He was aware of it, but he was not someone who had direct hands on [involvement],” Maenius said.
With Oliver and Granger claiming to remain in charge, it’s unclear if the hiring of Mazzanti will bring about any substantive change to Panther Island. Critics in Tarrant County are concerned Mazzanti has been hired to give the appearance that changes are being made to help restore federal confidence and the subsequent $600 million in federal funds.