After years of controversy, J.D. Granger departing Panther Island, TRVA

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J.D. Granger, who has overseen development of the Panther Island project championed by his mother, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, announced on social media on Friday that he is leaving to start his own consulting firm.

Granger has served for 16 years as executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA), the agency that manages the massive flood control and economic development project.

His last day as an employee will be April 29, according to a spokesman for the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), the parent agency of the Trinity River Vision Authority.

In a long post on his Facebook page, Granger recounted his work on the project and his decision to move on, according to a screenshot of the post.

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“I apologize for this atypical (and long) post. But, this message is over two decades in the making and I wanna share with those that I care about,” he wrote.

Granger wrote that he achieved his goals for both the management and branding aspects of the project, including getting people into the river for the first time in 12 years.

“We are now known for having the only section of a river in a Texas downtown area that you can swim in and Texas’ only waterfront stage,” he wrote.

“It was an uphill battle…but I am extremely proud to have delivered both this spring,” he stated. “Having secured over $400 million in federal funds for the project and completed the first section of our new Riverwalk, I feel I have met my commitments to myself and my community,” Granger said.

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Granger wrote that he has decided to “pursue new personal goals and opportunities.” Among them is JD Granger Group LLC, he stated. He also wrote that he will “help” the Tarrant Regional Water District and the Trinity River Vision Authority as the Panther Island project transitions to its next phase.

Granger is the second top executive to leave the water district within the past year.

Jim Oliver, longtime TRWD general manager, announced his plans to retire in March 2021. After it was revealed that former TRWD board President Jack Stevens agreed to pay Oliver about $300,000 in extra compensation without consent of the board, the board voted to revoke the agreement.

Last fall, the board agreed to a settlement with Oliver for $300,000 over employment claims in exchange for Oliver’s consent to drop legal action against the district.

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Granger has been an embattled overseer, operating under a cloud of criticism and controversy centering on questions about his qualifications for the job and objections to the nepotism inherent in his involvement with a project so closely tied to his mother, a former Fort Worth mayor and the project’s most ardent supporter as a member of Congress.

For all but the last two years, J.D. Granger had oversight over all aspects of the project, including recreation and entertainment, land acquisition and economic development as well as coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on flood control.

But after several years when the $1.17 billion project failed to receive the federal funds it needed to move forward, the Trinity River Vision Authority board hired a consultant to review the entire project and recommend changes that would improve its chances to get federal money.

As a result of the recommendations from the Riveron consulting firm, Granger was shifted into a somewhat diminished role reporting to Oliver. Also, a contractor was hired as program manager to coordinate work being done on the project – including the much-delayed construction of three bridges – in conjunction with the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County and other government entities.

In January, officials announced that the federal government had allocated $403 million for the long-stalled project as part of $14 billion in infrastructure money the Biden administration plans to spend to upgrade the nation’s ports and waterways.

“We are grateful for JD’s passion and numerous contributions toward creating a new vision on the Trinity River,” said TRWD General Manager Dan Buhman in a statement.

“During his 16 years at TRWD, he worked tirelessly on the Central City/Panther Island flood control project to assure the Trinity River was a clean, inviting place to live, work and play,” Buhman said. Buhman became general manager after Oliver left the water district.

Longtime TRWD board member Jim Lane said Granger’s departure is a “loss for the water district, in my opinion.”

“He’s a very talented, very dedicated, hard worker,” Lane said. “He was there from the beginning of the Panther Island project and no one knows it better than he does. I hope he continues to have a relationship with the water district.”

Mary Kelleher, a board member who has been a vocal critic of past practices at the water district, offered a succinct response to Granger’s departure: “I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Lon Burnam, a former state representative and leader of a grassroots advocacy group called the Water District Accountability Project, said: “We think (Granger’s departure) represents progress. We are eager to find out how much he will be paid as a consultant.”

“My concern is TRWD will give J.D. a lucrative contract to be a consultant,” said Doreen Geiger, a member of the accountability group. “I certainly hope I am wrong.”

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