The Freestone County commissioners are decrying the state’s decision to move forward with eminent domain to seize the Fairfield Lake State Park property in their county.
At a Wednesday morning meeting, the five commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to Texas Parks and Wildlife, asking them to “stop right now.” In the letter, which was later posted on the county’s website, the county commissioners labeled the eminent domain action as “an abuse of power and government overreach.”
The Freestone County commissioners voted to draft the letter Wednesday morning. By early afternoon Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said the agency had received the letter but did not yet have a response.
The county commissioners were responding to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission’s June 10 decision to use eminent domain to seize 5,000 acres of land in Freestone County. That land includes the 1,800-acre Fairfield Lake State Park, which the state operated on leased land for about five decades.
Freestone County Judge Linda Grant has for months been a vocal proponent of saving the park, and has spoken at legislative hearings about the importance of the park to the local community.
She said at Wednesday’s meeting, though, that she believes public sentiment has changed over time, as the discussion shifted from purchasing the park land to seizing the park land.
“I think the opinions have changed and I think people are not as supportive as they used to be,” Grant said at the meeting.
She added that Todd Interests’ planned development would also add to the county’s tax base.
“The tax revenue that this project is promising, that we will get, will be a great benefit to our county and to our taxpayers,” Grant said. “Hopefully more services will be able to be provided to our citizens, and I know we need a lot of things in our county that we’ve not been able to afford over time.”
In their letter, the Freestone County commissioners said that the county had already lost a big chunk of its tax base when Vistra closed the power plant that it previously operated near Fairfield Lake.
“For TPWD to steal an opportunity for us to replace that tax base would be selfish,” the letter said.
See here for the background and here for a copy of the letter. On the one hand, all of the momentum appeared to be going towards the current course of action – the TPWD is all Abbott appointees, and there’s been little opposition that I’d seen from elected officials. On the other hand, there’s a lot of Republican antipathy towards eminent domain, and it’s not a new thing, as anyone who remembers the Trans Texas Corridor from the mid-aughts can attest. Given that, I can understand this action, though I wonder how clear Freestone County’s position was to the TPWD before this. I don’t think this changes anything from a practical perspective – the state still has the right to use eminent domain, Todd Interests can still sue and at least get some leverage on how much they’ll be compensated – but it does alter the optics, at least a little. NBCDFW has more.