After 16 years of delays and cost overruns exploding to over $1.17 billion, a local government bureaucracy—in defiance of the Fort Worth City Council—is refusing to follow recommended reforms for the redevelopment scheme known as Panther Island.
Panther Island, a redevelopment boondoggle pushed under the guise of flood control, has been mired in scandal and controversy since its inception in 2003. Last year, the Trump administration pulled all federal funding for the project, a move followed by Fort Worth’s Mayor Betsy Price’s call for an “independent review” of the project.
The programmatic review, conducted by Riveron, exposed what had been generally suspected by onlookers for more than a decade: officials mismanaged the project. More than $383 million of taxpayer money was spent with no single aspect of construction completed.
The project was dysfunctionally and deceptively managed by two key players—Jim Oliver, general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), and J.D. Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA) and son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger.
Riveron submitted a series of recommendations, including:
- Restructuring the organization with clear lines of accountability.
- Narrowing and focusing the TRVA executive director’s responsibilities (Granger) to flood control, compliance, risk management, and coordination.
- Defining clear organizational responsibilities:
- TRVA (Granger) to focus on flood control.
- TRWD (Oliver) to focus on recreation.
- A nonprofit (created by City of Fort Worth) to manage economic development.
- Creating a wall of separation between Granger (TRVA) and Oliver (TRWD), with Granger accountable to TRVA board.
Fort Worth’s City Council unanimously endorsed all of Riveron’s restructuring recommendations in October, but Oliver and Granger have not complied. Instead, the TRVA has made a few small changes to create the illusion of reform.
The TRVA board voted November 13 to move forward with a new hire: Mark Mazzanti, who had served as Director of Programs for the Southwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). His resume shows extensive engineering experience, including overseeing the Mississippi River and Tributaries project.
Mazzanti will be paid $25,000 a month, or $300,000 per year, to serve as “Program Coordinator” at TRVA. Granger will keep his six-figure salary job, with his role remaining unclear.
Mazzanti’s position is not found anywhere in Riveron’s recommendations. His resume suggests he would oversee flood control, which would be appropriate for the TRVA and in line with what Riveron recommended. However, TRVA Board President and Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius says Granger will still handle flood control.
“Mr. Granger is working for the TRWD. The TRVA is a coordinating effort. 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].”
Maenius’ statement appears to indicate that the TRWD will still be handling flood control and there will be no wall of separation between Granger and Oliver. Both are in violation of Riveron’s recommendations,
Granger seemed to confirm this in October. “I’m still going to be under Jim [Oliver], no matter what,” he stated.
As for what responsibilities Oliver will assign Granger, Oliver made that clear to Texas Scorecard in an October email: “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.”
In other words, Oliver and Granger will remain firmly in control of Panther Island—in direct defiance of the restructuring recommendations endorsed by Fort Worth’s City Council. This has led critics to see Mazzanti’s hire as nothing more than an illusion of a restructuring, without anything actually changing.
Inquiries were sent to Mayor Price and Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke, who also serves on the TRVA board, about Oliver’s and Granger’s defiance and what they intend to do about it. Neither have replied as of publication.
Panther Island is also in need of a financial or forensic audit of where TRVA has spent $383 million of taxpayer funds. Although the Riveron review stated the design phase of Panther Island was “100% complete,” lawyers responding to Texas Scorecard’s request for public records stated the design phase is not complete.
Taxpayers concerned about Panther Island may contact the elected members of the Fort Worth City Council and Tarrant County Commissioners Court, as both are project stakeholders on behalf of the public.