Last Wednesday, a billion-dollar redevelopment scheme overseen by the son of a congresswoman revealed that its design phase is not yet complete. This runs counter to findings published last year by a third-party review, which claimed that the design phase was finished after 13 years and more than $383 million spent.
Panther Island is a massive taxpayer-funded government project conceived in 2003 to reroute the Trinity River via a 1.5-mile bypass—and redevelop prime Fort Worth real estate north of downtown—under the guise of flood control.
The joint venture involves the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Tarrant County, the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), the City of Fort Worth, and the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA). The TRVA was tasked with coordinating the project, the cost of which has ballooned from $435 million in 2006 to more than $1.17 billion in 2018.
To lead this project, TRWD General Manager supported picking J.D. Granger—son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger—to run the TRVA despite lacking any related education or work experience. He was hired in 2006.
After 13 years of cost overruns, delays, construction problems, and mismanagement, the Trump administration froze federal funding, prompting a third-party programmatic review of the troubled project. Despite $383 million being spent, the review found no aspect of construction completed—only the design phase.
Now officials not only admit this claim is inaccurate, but they say the progress of the ongoing design is unknown.
Mark Mazzanti—formerly of USACE and hired in December as TRVA’s new “program coordinator”—told the TRVA board last Wednesday that President Trump had signed into law federal appropriations for roughly $170 million for flood control projects across the nation; he expects to hear in February if USACE and the administration will assign any of this to Panther Island.
“But for us to stay [on schedule], we need $38 million of $170 million, which is 22 percent of all the funds in the country,” said TRVA and TRWD Board Member James Hill.
Mazzanti said $38 million is what they have asked for and what is needed for USACE to complete their “design for all construction options.” To stay on schedule, they need only $10 million.
“The corps has not indicated [assigning] anything less than $38 million,” Mazzanti said.
After hearing Mazzanti’s statement, Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke asked about the status of the design phase. “So, I’ve been told [USACE] has done 60 percent design. Is that a true statement?”
“No,” Mazzanti replied.
“What would a true statement be?” Cooke asked. Mazzanti couldn’t say what their current progress is, but said he “could check on that.”
“There are a number of designs that are ongoing,” Mazzanti said at one point.
This stunning admission conflicts with the findings of the third-party programmatic review, but confirms a statement from TRWD lawyer’s to Texas’ attorney general last year that the project’s design phase still is incomplete after 13 years and more than $383 million spent.
If federal funding is restored, taxpayers will again be exposed to the ongoing financial risk of this increasingly expensive boondoggle, without a financial or forensic audit ever having been conducted to disclose where hundreds of millions in tax dollars have already been spent.
The project is in need of at least $600 million of federal funding to reach completion. Until those funds arrive, the TRWD appears committed to keeping Granger’s agency limping along by issuing more debt onto the backs of Tarrant County taxpayers. Those same taxpayers were already asked to approve a $250 million loan in 2018—a loan they will have to repay through their property tax bills.
Concerned Texans may contact the Fort Worth City Council and the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, both of which have contributed local taxpayer funds to the project. Congresswoman Granger, who has used her influence to fund the project with federal tax dollars, faces a challenge in the March Republican primary from former Colleyville City Councilman Chris Putnam.