Texas Parks and Wildlife will meet Saturday to discuss potential use of eminent domain on Fairfield Lake State Park

This comes after numerous failed attempts to negotiate the purchase of the property from a private developer, Todd Interests
Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 5:58 PM CDT

FAIRFIELD, Texas (KWTX) - The state is exploring using eminent domain and condemnation to seize ownership of Fairfield Lake State Park after it was unable to negotiate the purchase of the property from a private developer, Todd Interests.

The park operated on leased land for decades until its previous owner, energy company Vistra Corp., sold the the park to Dallas-Based Todd Interests for just over $110 million earlier this year.

But now, Fairfield Lake State Park is closed again for the second time this year following several failed attempts by the state to repossess it.

“This is all a political charade and political theater,” Shawn Todd, the CEO and founder of Todd Interests, told KWTX. “I’m worn out, frustrated, and tired.”

Texas Parks and Wildlife announced that Todd declined the state’s $25 million offer to give up the company’s contract for the 5,000-acre property, which includes the park.

“The state’s always wanted to do something on the cheap,” Todd said. “It’s real easy for leadership and I believe the citizens of Texas... all Parks and Wildlife had to say was, ‘folks, at the time this came about, we didn’t have the money, and now we do but we’re too late.’”

Now, the state is exploring seizing the land using legal tools called eminent domain and condemnation.

“Eminent domain is the right of the government to take private property for a public purpose,” Jacob Merkord, JD, and eminent domain expert at Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP, said. “Often in Texas, we see the government exercising that right to take property to build highways, roads and other infrastructure.”

Merkord says that while Todd will have the opportunity to challenge the state in a lawsuit, he certainly won’t have the same level of power.

“The state has a lot of power to decide which properties it wants to acquire, so it’s very difficult for a landowner to win that challenge and keep the state from taking their property,” Merkord said.

Todd says he’s astonished the state would even consider doing this, especially given the numerous opportunities it had to acquire the property.

“My goodness gracious, to try and pass legislation that is contrary to Texas, to try and attack a business deal, and then to try and come back at the last minute,” Todd said.

In a statement from Rep. Angelia Orr, who led the legislative charge to repossess Fairfield Lake State Park, she says:

This land has been open to all Texans for more than 50 years. I am saddened by the loss of this property for our great state. Not just for the residents of Freestone County, but for the next generations of Texans. For the families who will not be able to make memories and enjoy the natural beauty of our state. For the wildlife that will no longer run within the depths of the lake. For the small business owners in the City of Fairfield, who will no longer see tourists and families from around the state as they visit and discuss their adventures of camping, fishing and enjoying the lake on recreational watercraft.

During the legislative session, I fought for the residents of Freestone County and park lovers across the state by exploring all avenues to help preserve this cherished land. The legislation I filed was intended to keep the conversation going about the dealings of this land, and reach a favorable agreement amongst all shareholders. I believe that keeping the park open for the next generation will have an immeasurable impact on the lives of Texans around the state. I want to thank everyone that reached out to our office and expressed their desire to save this park, and I hope that the outcome of Saturday’s meeting moves us in that direction.”