Texas lawmakers want to use eminent domain to save Fairfield Lake State Park

A Texas lawmaker wants to use star domain to block development of a popular state park southeast of Dallas.

Texas Parks and Wildlife announced on Tuesday that Fairfield Lake State Park will close on February 28 after months of negotiations between private companies and the state failed to secure a deal.

But Texas Rep. Angelia Orr has introduced a bill that would give the state the power to acquire land through eminent domain, saying it has a vested interest in preserving the park.

Although Fairfield Lake has been open to the public since 1976, the property is actually owned by Vistra Energy, which has leased the land to the state for free.

Vistra is now selling the land to Todd Interests, the developer responsible for high-end projects in downtown Dallas, including The National and the East Quarter. The developer, Shawn Todd, has indicated he will no longer lease the land to the state and instead plans to develop a high-end gated community with multimillion-dollar second homes and a private golf course.

Fairfield Lake is located along a rural tract of land in Freestone County, approximately 90 miles southeast of Dallas. The park offers miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, but its biggest attraction is fishing for catfish and largemouth bass.

“This precious piece of Texas has blessed our local families and countless visitors for generations, and losing it is hard to comprehend,” said Orr, a Republican representing Freestone County, in a statement about the park’s closure.

It’s not yet clear whether the prominent domain bill will gain traction in Texas, which has historically championed the rights of private landowners. In expropriation, the government can acquire land for public use as long as it pays the owner a fair price. In this case, the property is listed for more than $110 million.

But a slew of elected leaders have called on private companies to work with the state to keep the park open.

“The prospect of a developer taking this treasure out of our state park system is deeply concerning,” Rep. Trent Ashby, a Lufkin Republican and chair of the state’s culture, recreation and tourism committee, wrote in a statement.

Todd Interests did not respond to requests for comment.

Vistra Energy declined to comment on the bill. On Tuesday, spokeswoman Meranda Cohn said the company has never received a rental fee and has been working with Texas Parks and Wildlife for the past few years to keep the park open.

“We are proud to have made this privately owned land available to generations of Texans over the past 50 years,” said Cohn.

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