Richard Connor: Panther Island redux – If there’s one thing these folks understand, it’s feathers

White Settlement bridge. (Photo by Paul Harral).

Among the menagerie of animals my children and I have had over the years was a pair of gray finches. Actually, we’ve had more than one pair. Somewhat fragile creatures, one occasionally would be found on its back, legs straight up in the air, in a state of rigor mortis.

Often the dead bird would go unnoticed by my children, which gave me time to run to the pet store to buy a new one, get it in the cage before school let out and save the family from wailing grief and a backyard burial.

The pair were always named Mr. and Mrs. Finch. The naming of animals in our family often lacked a sense of creativity. The fattest puppy we kept from a litter was “Moose.” His mother, a spotted springer spaniel, was “Freckles.”

The bird cage hung in the kitchen and one night at dinner the children noticed the latest Mr. Finch was going bald. He was shivering. Feathers and down he once wore proudly carpeted the bottom of the cage.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Quick research informed us that without nesting material a female finch uses the next best source, stealing feathers from the male to make a cozy home.

Animals can teach a family life’s lessons. In this case, the birds taught us a phrase and an all-too-prevalent human inclination: “feathering your own nest.”

And that, like a river rolling toward the ocean, brings me back to an inevitable and irresistible destination, the near comical flood-control/economic development project that goes by many names – Trinity River Vision, Central City project, Panther Island – but is stuck with one label that never seems to go away: boondoggle.

The Panther Island debacle is not a laughing matter, I must say, if you own a business on White Settlement and have watched your customers take their money elsewhere because of street detours and traffic jams caused by the ongoing non-construction of bridges that officials vow will one day be completed and, better yet, will have a rerouted Trinity River flowing beneath them.

- Advertisement -

So what does a public works disaster have to do with Mr. and Mrs. Finch, you’re wondering? Two words: Jim Oliver.

Oliver is general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District, the agency with overall responsibility for the Panther Island project. When it comes to feathering their own nest, no fine-feathered finches can out-feather Oliver and other denizens of the ill-fated project’s den of mismanagement. These folks have plucked millions of dollars from local and federal taxpayers, and have paid them back with nothing but unkept promises and ever-increasing cost projections. You’ve seen or heard the number: $1.17 billion, with no ceiling in sight.

Oliver reacted to the recently completed independent review of the project and the problems surrounding it by pecking away at the leadership at Fort Worth City Hall. He said it’s the city’s fault that Panther Island is in the sewer – even though a report on the review by Dallas consultant Riveron lays responsibility for the problems squarely on the doorstep of Oliver and J.D. Granger, son of Fort Worth Congresswoman Kay Granger and executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, a sub-agency commissioned by the water district to handle day-to-day management of the project.

A news story by Business Press reporter Marice Richter said Oliver “pointed to the city for failing to be as timely in completing its responsibilities for the project.”

- Advertisement -

Water district staff members, Richter reported, mentioned utility relocations related to the project as an area where the city has dropped the ball. They also blamed City Hall, along with the Texas Department of Transportation, for the slow pace of bridge-building.

As Oliver tells it, meanwhile, the water district boss and his merry band of boondogglers are doing just fine.

“Oliver credited advancement of the project to J.D. Granger, pointing to an update given to the TRWD on July 16 that shows most of its obligations for the Panther Island Project are nearly complete,” our story said.

Oliver, as it happens, is J.D Granger’s boss – a situation that would change under a recommendation made by Riveron following its project review. The consultant said Granger should report to the Trinity River Vision Authority board, not to Oliver.

Riveron also recommended limiting Granger’s jurisdiction to the flood control portion of the project and creating a nonprofit to handle economic development. Surprise, surprise – Oliver doesn’t like that idea and of course neither does Granger. One less nest to feather.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at