A programmatic review found that the son of a congresswoman, who is also the administrator of Fort Worth’s regional water district, kept the Trinity River Vision Authority board in the dark about the controversial Panther Island project. According to the TRVA, more than $383 million in federal, state, and local taxpayer money has been spent since its inception in 2006.
Panther Island, conceived in 2003, seeks to reroute the Trinity River via a 1.5-mile bypass—and redevelop prime real estate—all under the guise of flood control. The Trinity River Vision Authority, headed by Congresswoman Kay Granger’s son, J.D. Granger, was the entity created to oversee coordination of the bypass channel, recreational amenities, and land redevelopment.
Riveron, a Dallas-based consulting firm, was hired to perform a programmatic review of the project after officials in the Trump administration pulled federal funding. This was the result of questions arising over the true nature of the project, in addition to repeated delays and cost overruns.
Until the troubled project can restore federal support, the TRWD convinced voters to approve a $250 million debt proposal in 2018, which will keep Granger’s agency on life support, and will be repaid by local property taxpayers.
Part of the issue with federal funding is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is “not permitted to spend federal dollars on local economic development […].” Although the project does involve flood mitigation, via the proposed 1.5-mile bypass channel, its recreational and property redevelopment aspects have been sold to area-residents and unnamed developers who stand to profit on the backs of taxpayers. The review was conducted in hopes of restoring federal confidence and funding.
What it has done is shed more light on the dysfunction within the troubled project.
The review found a “complicated, opaque structure and reporting hierarchy” at the TRVA, whereby its top administrator, Granger, would communicate directly with Jim Oliver, the executive director and top administrator of the TRWD. Granger is supposed to report directly to the entire TRVA board of directors, of which Oliver is a member.
This led to TRVA’s board lacking critical information needed to exercise their oversight responsibilities. According to the review, “[M]embers of the TRVA Board have expressed being unpleasantly surprised to discover decisions that were made and authorities that were granted without their knowledge.”
The review also reports occasions where “important documents were sent to the TRVA and never passed on to the Board,” suggesting that Granger and Oliver were working in a coordinated fashion and withholding critical information from each of their respective boards. It’s worth noting that the TRWD’s board is elected by voters, while the TRVA’s board is appointed by the respective taxing entities that created it.
As previously reported, more than $383 million in federal, state, and local taxpayer money has been spent on the Panther Island redevelopment boondoggle over the past 15 years, according to Granger’s TRVA.
The TRVA’s total project cost has ballooned from $435 million in 2006 to more than $1.168 billion as of 2018. Its projected completion date has been pushed back to 2028. The exact price tag is still unknown as no construction aspect of the complicated project has been completed, according to TRVA documents.
The TRVA has yet to undergo either a financial or forensic audit of where $383 million in taxpayer funds have been spent.
Texas Scorecard will continue to report on details of the 90-page programmatic review and the effect the troubled project is having on taxpayers.