Texas Parks and Wildlife approves use of eminent domain for Fairfield Lake State Park

Published: Jun. 10, 2023 at 8:24 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) - At a special meeting on Saturday the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to begin using a process called “eminent domain” to try and take back the closed Fairfield Lake State Park.

The state previously leased the land from a company called Vista Corps, however, the company sold the land to a private company called Todd Interests. The group plans on building a golf course and neighborhood with multi-million dollar homes on the property.

”Eminent domain is the power of the government to take private property for just public use with proper compensations,” James Murphy, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department attorney, said.

The next step now is for the state to submit a written offer to Dallas-based Todd Interests. The offer must be greater than or equal to the appraised value of Fairfield Lake State Park.

If Todd Interests and the state cannot come to an agreement over the value of the land though the case could end up in court.

The commissioners all agreed that though the decision to use eminent domain was unanimous, it didn’t come lightly.

”Everybody up here is taking this issue very seriously, but I don’t think we have any other options to save Fairfield Lake State Park,” commissioner Dick Scott said.

Rep. Angela Orr (R - Ithasca), who has advocated for the state to take back the rights, agreed with the commissioners.

”If this isn’t the case for eminent domain then there is no case for eminent domain,” Rep. Orr told KWTX. “The park has been in use for 50 years.”

The meeting took place at the Texas Parks and Wildlife headquarters in Austin. About a dozen people gave public comments and a couple others sent in letters: all in support of using eminent domain. However, at the meeting no one spoke in opposition of using the mechanism.

Freestone County residents, lawmakers and advocates all expressed concerns over the species at the park, the future of the lake and the town’s loss of tourism revenue due to the closure.

”Overnight camping and the fishing tournaments they provide so much, I mean it’s 80,000 people coming to a small town,” Fairfield resident Sandy Emmons said.

The commission also voted to begin working on a new policy that limits their use of eminent domain to “extraordinary and unusual situations like Fairfield Lake State Park.” The executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is now working on that policy and he will present it to the commission at a later meeting in August.

KWTX reached out to Todd Interests for comment on the state’s decision to move forward with the eminent domain process. However, they declined to comment.