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TPW Commission To Meet Dec. 20 in Austin
Devils River, TFFC Land Acquisitions on Special Meeting Agenda
AUSTIN – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission will hold a special meeting at 9 a.m. Dec. 20 at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Austin headquarters to consider two land acquisitions, one on the Devils River in Val Verde County and another near the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.
TPWD is now proposing to acquire the 17,638-acre Devils River Ranch in Val Verde County and manage it as part of the existing Devils River State Natural Area. Previously, the agency had proposed exchanging the natural area as partial payment for the ranch about 13 miles downriver.
The agency will host a local constituent briefing in Del Rio to explain the new Devils River proposal. Anyone is welcome to attend that meeting, which will take place from 6-8 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Del Rio Civic Center, Kennedy Room, 1915 Veterans Blvd.
The Devils River Ranch owner has agreed to sell the ranch to TPWD for $13 million, significantly below the $15,875,000 fair market value calculated earlier this year by a certified appraiser. To fund the purchase, TPWD would use $2.7 million in state funds allocated for park land acquisition. This would be matched with $1.3 million in federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. But the bulk of the purchase would be made with $9 million in private donations.
A proposal to exchange the natural area for the ranch was pulled from the Nov. 4 commission agenda after TPWD heard concerns from paddlers, some environmentalists and others. Kayak and canoe clubs expressed concern that loss of the state natural area would disrupt opportunities to paddle the upper river. The new proposal maintains that opportunity while opening the way for the department to work collaboratively with landowners and paddlers to resolve longstanding disputes surrounding the river’s use, as well as improve the existing state natural area.
If the acquisition is approved by the commission, the two sites would likely be operated under one superintendent as a state natural area complex. Public access to the new site would come after creation of a master plan as well as a public use plan for both units of the natural area, a process estimated to take about two years. Private donations would fund the first 2.5 years of operating expenses for the new site.
TPWD also plans to bring together a working group to include landowners, paddlers, businesses, elected officials, non-profit partners and others to work together and seek solutions to address the recreational interests of Devils River users as well as the property rights of adjacent landowners.
The department has compiled maps, photos, questions and answers, conservation easement documents and other resources in a Devils River Land Acquisition News Roundup on its website.
At the Dec. 20 meeting, commissioners will consider one other item, a proposal to acquire about 14 acres of private land just north of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. The tract would be used to build a small reservoir to provide water for fish hatchery ponds.
Public testimony on both items may be made at the Dec. 20 commission meeting. Questions or comments about the Devils River proposal can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to Ted Hollingsworth, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744.
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