The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has effectively thrown in the towel on a monthslong battle to buy or seize a 5,000-acre property that includes the now-closed Fairfield Lake State Park in Freestone County.
Dallas-based developer Todd Interests purchased the land in June for about $103 million from Vistra Corp., a private power company that for decades had leased the portion containing the park to the state at no cost. Soon after, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department — which had turned down an opportunity to buy the entire property from Vistra — filed a petition to seize the property, located about 100 miles south of Dallas, through eminent domain.
A Freestone County judge then appointed a panel of local landowners to set a fair market value for the property as part of the eminent domain process. The state could have taken immediate possession of the property if it agreed to pay that amount, but it balked at the panel’s price — $418.3 million, about four times more than what Todd Interests paid for the land a few months ago.
The state, which had argued that the value of the property was $85 million, could have appealed that decision and triggered a civil trial but instead decided to cease efforts to take the property. The Parks and Wildlife Department also said it doesn’t intend to make future attempts to seize any portion of the property, including water rights.
“TPWD recognizes the importance of conserving our state’s natural resources and providing recreational opportunities for Texans,” TPWD Executive Director David Yoskowitz said in a statement. “However, TPWD must also responsibly manage the state’s fiscal resources in order to maximize the benefit of our parks for all Texans.”
Todd Interests plans to turn the former park into a high-end gated subdivision with multimillion-dollar homes, a golf course and restaurants. The company has already begun construction.
Texas residents who have been advocating to save the park said they were disappointed in the state’s decision. Administrators of the Save Fairfield Lake State Park Facebook group were pushing the state to appeal the local panel’s decision on the property’s value.
“Even though this is concluded, I want people to continue pushing our public officials to conserve public land,” said Misti Little, administrator of the Facebook group. “We are only going to lose more land as cities expand outward, so we need to keep the momentum moving forward.”
See here for the last update. I’m a little surprised the state folded this quickly. They certainly had the authority to use eminent domain, and while there would have been a court fight, it seems to me they would have prevailed. Maybe this was budgetary, maybe there were some other politics going on, who knows. What I do know is that while I would prefer that we still have Fairfield Lake State Park, it was the state’s screwup that led to this. One can hardly blame Todd Interests for taking advantage of the opportunity that was before them. I just hope we all learned something from this.