A programmatic review showed Panther Island—the real estate development boondoggle headed by the son of a congresswoman—cost taxpayers over $383 million with only its design phase finished. But now lawyers from the Tarrant Regional Water District are contradicting those reports, saying that even the design phase has not yet been completed.

As previously reported by Texas Scorecard, 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. In 2019, after years of cost overruns and delays, a third-party firm was hired to perform a programmatic review of the project.

The review, conducted by Riveron, found Panther Island has so far cost taxpayers more than $383 million—with zero construction completed. The review found only the design phase was finished. Even worse, cost estimates for the project have exploded from $435 million in 2006 to more than $1.16 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 a federal taxpayer boost 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 TRWD General Manager Jim Oliver to keep the TRVA board in the dark.

After examining the review, Texas Scorecard submitted an open records request to the TRWD for the documents submitted to Riveron. TRWD responded by sending us two letters between the City of Fort Worth and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 2006, as well as a copy of a letter they sent Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asking for permission to withhold the remaining documents from us.

In TRWD’s letter to Paxton, their lawyers reveal two of the documents they are seeking to withhold “relate to portions of the TRV project that have yet to be bid out and [are] still in the design phase.” This is a shocking contradiction to the report from Riveron.

They continue to contradict the report, saying “the bypass channels, design components, and other listed items encompassing key construction components of the TRV project … are still very much in the design phase.”

The lawyers argue that releasing the rest of the documents “would give bidders a competitive advantage” and “put the District at a disadvantage in lobbying for federal funding.”

Last year, the Trump administration pulled all federal funding from the project, putting completion at risk. Sources in Tarrant County previously informed Texas Scorecard that the Trump administration allegedly will not restore funding until Granger and Oliver are removed from the project.

When Texas Scorecard asked Oliver if the letter from TRWD’s lawyers meant Riveron’s programmatic review was incorrect, he looked toward the TRWD Environmental Director, Woody Frossard.

“I think it probably means that [Riveron] only looked at components of the design, they didn’t look at every little individual component,” Frossard answered.

“Theirs was more of a programmatic level, not an individual level. So I don’t think they’re wrong, but I don’t think our attorney’s response is actually correct, because he answered everything to [an individual] degree. [Riveron] looked at the big picture.”

“The lawyer’s statement is based upon individual components,” Frossard added. “Riveron just looked at the overall, big picture.”

When asked if he would make all records submitted to Riveron public, Oliver said, “We’re following the open records laws.”

This situation calls into question the accuracy of the Riveron report and just how much risk local taxpayers are exposed to. The TRVA also has yet to undergo either a financial or forensic audit of where the $383 million of taxpayer funds has been spent.

The Riveron programmatic review can be found here, and TRWD’s legal appeal to Paxton can be found here.

Concerned taxpayers wanting to see all of the documents released to the public may contact the Texas Attorney General’s Office. They may also express their views on the entire boondoggle to the members of the Fort Worth City Council and Tarrant County Commissioners Court.

Robert Montoya

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