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FreeCo Commissioner Lane Issues Op/Ed in FLSP Lake Issue

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By Lloyd Lane, Freestone County Commissioner

For 50 years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department encouraged visitors to camp, swim, and fish in Lake Fairfield.

So after reading an email this month that had been sent to Dallas developer Todd Interests on July 25 from Charles McFarland, a Houston attorney representing TPWD in the eminent domain-condemnation case against the lake’s new owner, I was concerned.

McFarland wrote that TPWD was concerned that the power plant that operated at Fairfield for decades “significantly attributed pollutants and regulated substances to both environmental conditions and aquatic species of aquatic wildlife currently in Lake Fairfield. The contaminants of concern are primarily heavy metals and potentially organics, both of which are known to biochemically accumulate in fish tissue. Concentration of these constituents may reach harmful levels for human consumption.”

At first, I thought how horrible it was for TPWD to encourage fishing and swimming all those years in a lake that they believe could be so contaminated.

Then I realized this was just another strong-arm attempt by the state to try and lower the property value of the lake and land they are attempting to condemn — land which the state had an opportunity to buy, but now belongs to Todd.

We as Freestone County Commissioners have experienced multiple such disingenuous attempts.

One example occurred in June when, in a TPWD meeting, former TPWD Commissioner Arch “Beaver” Aplin stated Todd Interests intended to sell water from the lake, as if this was a justification to condemn private property. Yet, in an email dated Feb. 6, obtained from a public records request, Aplin asked former TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith and others to reach out to state water officials to see if TPWD could sell water from the lake to help lower the cost. Speak publicly one way; act privately another.

Another example of TPWD’s misleading narrative comes from repeated public statements by staff and commissioners that TPWD had invested more than $70 million in infrastructure at the park. But when repeatedly asked for verification, TPWD employee Cory Chandler ultimately provided a detailed $79 million cost estimate, detailing what it would cost to construct the infrastructure today, as if a boat ramp constructed in the 1970s is worth the cost of building one with 2023 prices.

On Oct. 5, 2021, I read in The Dallas Morning News that Vistra Energy had listed the entire 5,000-acre site — lake, land and state park — for sale. I assumed Vistra and TPWD would work something out, only to find out that the state had known about this for some time and failed to negotiate a deal with Vistra.

Then on Jan. 12, 2023, I received a call from a local contractor telling me the 5,000 acres was under contract and the potential buyer wanted to meet with a couple of commissioners to discuss county policies for development.

After that meeting, having been told of the jobs during construction and after, the amount of money lots would sell for, the value and number of the homes to be built in the entire project, I immediately thought of the additional tax base this would bring to our county, our schools, hospital, emergency services, fire departments, roads and bridges.

As county commissioners, we try to keep taxes as low as possible, while still collecting enough revenue through property taxation to fund the county budget. This was an opportunity to receive almost double our county’s yearly budget in taxes from a development that sits to itself out of sight, out of mind — a high-end community that shouldn’t be a huge burden on law enforcement, emergency services or other county departments.

But then a small number of environmentalists started a Facebook group — many acting as if they live and pay taxes in Freestone County. Social media allows people to make statements with no accountability. These activists encouraged TPWD to do whatever it takes to “save the park.”

TPWD, led at that time by Aplin, conducted an internet poll to which fewer than 300 people responded and used that as a springboard to try to rewrite their wrongs.

Next, state Rep. Angelia Orr, R-Itasca, decided to support TPWD’s land grab, introducing House Bill 2332 along with Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who introduced a similar Senate Bill 1657. Both bills specifically called for use of eminent domain of the 5,000 acres. But both bills failed.

All this and not one person from TPWD or the Legislature contacted a county commissioner to ask how the taxpayers of the county felt. The state has shown zero concern for Freestone County, and zero concern for the private property rights of Texans.

At what point do the taxpayers of this county have a say in what is best for our county?

It’s time for people to understand our role as county commissioners is to stand firm on what we believe is best for our county.

Condemnation of private property, government overreach and interfering with tax revenue, is definitely not what our taxpayers deserve.

This article was written by Freestone County Commissioner Lloyd Lane, and was signed in support by fellow Freestone County Commissioners Clyde Ridge, Will Mc Swane, and Andy Bonner.  

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