A massive flood control project along the Trinity River in Fort Worth has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and is projected to cost hundreds of millions more if it is to be completed in the next decade.
The Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA) project, known as Panther Island, led by J.D. Granger, son of longtime Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX-12), began in 2006 as a flood-control and revitalization project in the central part of Fort Worth along the Trinity River.
The project, which would reroute parts of the Trinity River, has been beset by massive delays and cost overruns since its inception.
Recently, the project was reviewed by a third-party advisory firm, Riveron. The report cited myriad problems within the project’s financial management, governance, and transparency and recommended significant changes.
Among the problems cited: an opaque management structure, unclear responsibilities and mandates, and insufficient oversight.
Riveron recommended the City of Fort Worth implement a direct line of reporting within the TRVA and a direct line of accountability to the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) for the project.
Essentially, the report recommends a clearer organizational structure along with revised internal policies and procedures to provide more transparency about the project.
The Fort Worth City Council unanimously adopted the recommendations found in the report in October.
While Tarrant County commissioners have not taken a similar vote, the commissioners were briefed on the Riveron report and are fully supportive of its recommendations, according to Tarrant County public information officer Bill Hanna.
“I don’t believe it is unreasonable to ask for management adjustments, adopting best practices and increased transparency so the project can decrease costs, ensure our best opportunity for federal funding and ultimately be completed,” District 3 Councilman Brian Byrd told Fort Worth Business Press.
Despite the many years and hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on the project, Riveron expects the project can not be completed until 2028 and will need at least $500 million more in funding.
Where that money will come from is unclear.
Original cost estimates in 2006 for the project was $435 million. Riveron now estimates the project will likely cost nearly $1.2 billion to complete–roughly three times the original estimates.
The assessment found “inconsistent reporting and high variances to project budget and cash flow estimates.”
The problematic reporting has left stakeholders and taxpayers unaware and confused about why the project’s budget continues to increase.
In spite of these issues, the TRWD, which oversees TRVA, allocated another $36 million to the project in 2020, but it made the funding contingent on the restructuring of the TRVA, presumably based on the Riveron report recommendations.
TRVA has also requested a ten-year extension of the special tax increment finance zone in Fort Worth that provides funding to the project, but the city has yet to agree to the extension.
While the project has already received about $60 million in federal funding, no additional federal funding has been allocated for the last two years. Riveron’s report seems skeptical about the restoration of federal funding unless the TRVA adopts its recommended budgeting and management changes.
Among the report’s key recommendations is a realignment of responsibilities at TRVA.
Executive director J.D. Granger would now only be responsible for flood control and project risk management and not economic development. Additionally, he would report to the TRVA board of directors.
On November 13, the TRVA board also voted to hire Mark Mazzanti, a decades-long veteran with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to help oversee what has become a billion-dollar boondoggle.
The Riveron report also suggests that recreational opportunities be handled by the Tarrant Regional Water District and that economic development projects be handled by a new community development corporation.
Because of the lack of transparency and the complicated governance of the TRVA project, Riveron recognized that the project gives the appearance of “impropriety, nepotism, favoritism, and unfair dealing.”
However, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently stated that “[i]n a previous meeting, the board decided to hand off those [economic development and entertainment] functions to the Tarrant Regional Water District and the city of Fort Worth. Both are better suited for the tasks. It’s not exactly what the independent review by consultant Riveron suggested, but it’s a good step.”
At the time of publication, TRVA could not be reached to confirm whether the Riveron report recommendations are actually being adopted and implemented.
The next TRVA board meeting is scheduled for December 4.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.