Management changes shift Granger’s role at Panther Island project

A re-organization within the management ranks of the Trinity River Vision Authority eliminated the position of executive director, shifting J.D. Granger into a new, flood-control focused role within the agency’s parent organization.

The moves came Wednesday as the TRVA board adopted recommendations from a consultant’s comprehensive review of the TRVA organization, which is responsible for development of the $1.17 billion Panther Island project.

Granger’s other duties will shift to other partner agencies in the TRVA, including the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. The TRWD will take oversight on recreation and entertainment while the city will assume responsibility for economic development as Dallas-based consultant Riveron recommended.

Also, as recommended by the review, the TRVA board will hire a new program manager, likely a contractor, who will coordinate the project and the work being performed by the various and the partner agencies.

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The TRVA board authorized the review after the Panther Island project failed repeatedly over several years to attract federal funds through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that are intended to pay for about half of the project’s cost.

Granger, who has been executive director of TRVA for more than a dozen years, will continue to oversee the flood control aspect of the project in his new position. As executive director, his role was oversight of all aspects of the project, including recreation and entertainment, land acquisition and economic development as well as coordinating with the Corps on flood control.

Granger will report to Jim Oliver, general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District, the parent agency of TRVA.

Granger, who earns more than $200,000 a year,

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said he has no plans to leave the TRWD and did not expect his salary to be impacted by the change.

Granger said his role as executive director was already shifting since land acquisition and environmental cleanup of the project area have nearly wrapped up and construction of a bypass channel and other flood control measures are ahead as the biggest pending phase of the project.

The plan for the ambitious project calls for the Corps will dig a 1.5-mile bypass channel and reroute the Trinity River north of the Tarrant County Courthouse. That channel would add flood control protection as well as carve out an 800-acre center island, which would create waterfront economic development opportunities, including a San Antonio-style Riverwalk.

Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorized an appropriation of up to $526 million for this project, only about $60 million was given under the Bush and Obama administrations.

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Funding for the project stalled under the Trump administration, causing alarm among Fort Worth leaders and land investors in the project zone. A year ago, Mayor Betsy Price met with officials in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, who conveyed the message that project’s focus on flood control and economic development need to be revised to just flood control.

Price’s concern led the TRVA board to conduct the comprehensive review.

Now refocused on just control, Price and Republican U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, whose District 25 stretches from the southern Fort Worth area to Austin, met again this past summer with federal budget officials, walking away with a tacit commitment of $250 million.

Despite efforts to revise the project’s scope, the optics of the project remained troubling to some community members and local leaders. Particularly worrisome, was the fact that Rep. Kay Granger, the ranking member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, was championing a project being managed by her son, J.D. Granger.

Aside from the appearance of nepotism, the consultants seized upon communication, transparency and coordination shortfalls in the project.

“I’m glad we’re making changes that will are effective and efficient and will improve the optics of this project,” said James Hill, a board member of both the TRVA and TRWD boards.

Oliver said he would like to see J.D. Granger serve on the city economic development committee for Panther Island, if such a panel is created. The consultants recommended that a nonprofit be created similar to Downtown Fort Worth Inc. to help coordinate and develop strategy for Panther Island.

“We own a lot of the property on Panther Island and would want to have him on a committee to represent us,” Oliver said.