TPW Commission

Commission Meeting, June 10, 2023


TPW Commission Meetings


June 10, 2023






CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Good morning, everyone.

It’s 10:30 a.m. I’d like to call the Special Commission Meeting, June 10th, 2023. I know Commissioner Foster is here somewhere.  So I know he’s present. He’s just — he’s in the building. But anyway, I’ll do a roll call; but do know Foster’s present.

Aplin present.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT:  Scott present.





CHAIRMAN APLIN:  I understand Bobby Patton is out of the country, trying — will try to call in.  And then Commissioner Rowling is not here.  I do have a statement to make.

Commissioner Blake Rowling is unable to attend and participate in today’s meeting due to a scheduling conflict.  However, he would like to disclose on the record his private involvement in a real estate development project in Fort Worth that is similar to the development that Todd Interests plans to undertake.  He would like to make this disclosure out of an abundance of caution and he is recusing himself from the vote, if he were present, to avoid any distractions regarding any perceived conflicts of interest that he may have.

This meeting is called to order June 10th, 10:30 a.m., 2023.

Before proceeding, Dr. Yoskowitz, I believe you have a statement to make.

DR. YOSKOWITZ:  Public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551 Government Code referred to as the Open Meetings Act.  I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of this meeting.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, David.

At this time, I’d like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 the Government Code referred to as the Open Meeting Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meeting Act and seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meeting Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation.

I’d like to inform everybody in the audience that although you’re welcome to stay for the remainder of the meeting, we’re going to go into Executive Session.  We’ll be back as fast as we can.

It’s hard to predict how long that will take.

By the way, I want to thank everybody for making the effort to come to this Special Meeting on a Saturday morning. It took great effort and very, very much appreciate your commitment to being able to be present and participate in the procedures at Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.  Thank you and thank the Commissioners.

We will now recess into Executive Session. It is 10:34 a.m.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome.  Thank you for staying, those that did.  We’re going to now reconvene the Commission Meeting June 10th, 2023, at 12:06 p.m.

Before we begin, I need to take roll call. Aplin present.

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT:  Scott present.






CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you. We’re now returning from Executive Session where we discussed the deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072 of the Open Meeting Act and seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meeting Act, including advice regarding pending and contemplated litigation.

We will now proceed to Action Item No. 2.

Action Item No. 2 is the Condemnation of Land, Freestone County, Consideration of Use of Eminent Domain to Condemn Real Property, Approximately 5,000 Acres at the Fairfield State Park.  We will hear from Rodney Franklin and James Murphy.

Rodney, good afternoon.  Welcome.  Thank you.

MR. FRANKLIN:  Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, fellow Commissioners.  For the record, my name is Rodney Franklin.  I’m the Director for Texas State Parks and I’m here to talk about Fairfield Lake State Park here in Freestone County.

As I mentioned, Fairfield Lake State Park is located in Freestone County.  It is between the city of Houston and Dallas and a couple of state parks that are near by are Fort Parker State Park and Fort Boggy.

We also have Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area that’s close by Fairfield Lake State Park as well.

And a little bit of history, a little condensed history of what brought us here today.

Fairfield Lake State Park is a leased park which opened in 1976 and has been serving the public since that time, about a little over 1800 acres.  We leased the property from Vistra and you might hear the term Luminant as well from time to time.  And they notified us in 2018 they would be shutting down the plant and selling the property.

And at that time, we engaged with Vistra to explore potential alternatives and options that would allow us to keep the park open over time, including asking them if they would consider carving out the state park property from the sale; but Vistra would not consider just selling the parkland at that time.

We also engaged multiple partners to partner with us to represent TPWD with Vistra to see if they could purchase the property and work with us collaboratively, if they were successful in their purchase, to keep the park open as well.  Partners such as Conservation Equity Partners who were in contact with Vistra and put in a bid and had those bids been successful, we would have been able to work with them cooperatively to keep the park open.  But ultimately, their bids were unsuccessful as well.

So in 2022, Todd Interests entered into a contract to purchase the property and we were unable through nondisclosure agreements to find out until late summer the buyer of Todd Interests and we also found out at that time that Todd Interests has no interest in continuing the park as an operation as it was operating currently. So, of course, that ramped up our contact and communications with Todd Interests to try to negotiate and try to find alternatives to help keep the park open and serving some 80,000 visitors to the public.

But the new owner ultimately did close on the property the first part of June, and our contract is set to expire June 13th.  So at that time, TPWD’s lease would end and we would have to vacate the property at Fairfield Lake State Park.

While the property was under contract, TPWD did attempt to purchase the sales contract from Todd Interests for a total of 25 million, just to have the right to then negotiate a purchase with Vistra to purchase the state park property; but that offer was ultimately declined.

So this is the property map in question.

You see outlined in yellow is the entirety of the 5,000 acres of Fairfield Lake State Park, which is inclusive of 2,400 acres of the lake, which is an absolute draw and the gem of the state park, to include all the other amenities and infrastructure that we’ve invested in Fairfield Lake State Park over the many, many years that we’ve had it in operation.

Fairfield Lake State Park and the lake itself is one of the finest — one of the nation’s finest fishing locations, producing 69 Lunkers since 2020 alone and is really one of the most productive fisheries that Texas Parks and Wildlife manages.

Hydrological modeling for TPWD shows that diverting water assets out of the reservoir to the tune of the 14,000 acres — acre feet, which is part of the permit, would reduce the volume of the reservoir by as much as a third and draw the water level down 8 feet and trim some 11 miles off the shoreline, which is about 41 percent.

And, of course, this would have a detrimental affect on the aquatic resources and the aquatic life; but also make the — render the boat ramp unusable about 80 percent of the time.  And, again, that’s one of the main draws and attractions of Fairfield Lake State Park.

So that is an important piece of the acquisition and what we would talk about for Fairfield Lake State Park.

So Texas Parks and Wildlife will consider options to use eminent domain to condemn approximately 5,000 acres of the property that includes Fairfield Lake State Park, but also Fairfield Lake, from the owner to preserve and expand the park under authority provided to Texas Parks and Wildlife Code 21.103.

We’ve had some 200 and forty – 284 written comments and 227 of those have been in support of this motion and 57 have been opposed and that’s 80 percent of those commenting on our public comment section have been in support of the action to take eminent domain.  Some of the responses that were without comment, are — were a little bit inconclusive because we found that there was a formatting issue on the mobile version of the web app which aligned the button that you would choose — it looked like you were choosing the button to agree, but it was actually the button to disagree.  So that became evident when we saw 69 percent of some of the disagree had comments in full support of our action.  So that let us know that there was alignment or a formatting issue.  But at the end of the day the aggregate of all the written comments were 80 percent in favor of this action.

So I’ll turn it over to our attorney James Murphy, unless there’s any questions for me.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Rodney.

Commissioners, any questions for Rodney?

James, good afternoon.

MR. MURPHY:  Good afternoon, Chairman,

Commissioners.  James Murphy, for the record, General Counsel to the Commission and I’m here to present a short summary of the condemnation process because this is a process that’s very rarely used around here and I think it’s important that we give both you and the audience an understanding of how this process works.

So first off, the Texas Constitution establishes the general authority and the restrictions on the uses of eminent domain and it does require adequate compensation for any taking.  And then from there, we have a specific authority in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code to condemn for park sites and that is authority that we are looking at today.

So just a little terminology background, eminent domain and condemnation are synonyms in the, you know, general conversation.  But in legal dictionary, a little nuance. Eminent domain is the power or authority of government to take private property for public use with payment of just compensation.  Condemnation generally refers to the process that government would use to do that. And here in Texas, we have a quick take process for condemnation that described in Chapter 21 of the Texas Property Code and it has five major steps here.  I’ll get to those steps in order and explain why we’re called a quick take state.  But Steps 1 and 2 can occur in either order and the can occur currently and that is the case here today.

So for our first condemnation Step 1 or 2 — as I said, these can occur in either order — we have to provide a formal written offer to the landowner and if an appraisal report has been completed, that goes in with that initial offer.  If there hasn’t been one, then that must be submitted with a second final written offer.  And so there’s a 30-day waiting period for the landowner to consider the initial written offer.  It’s sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.  And then if that 30-day waiting period has concluded and we have an appraisal report ready, we would then include that report in the final written offer.  The amount of the offer must be equal to or greater than the amount shown in the appraisal report that we submit and that landowner then has 14 days to consider that best and final offer.

The other step, which again can occur in either order, is that this Commission must vote in an open public meeting after giving proper public notice.

And that’s, of course, our proceeding here today. So the next step is then if we’re unable to reach a voluntarily agreement, we would then be able to file a petition in district court in the county, here Freestone County, only after we’ve completed those first two steps and the Office of the Attorney General of Texas would represent us in those proceedings.  We are currently represented by the Office of the Attorney General in this matter.  The AG’s Office has sent two letters to Todd Interests already.

The first is an evidence preservation letter on May 25th, requesting retention of relevant documents. That’s a pretty standard step in civil litigation.  The second was another preservation evidence preservation letter to Todd Interests on June 6th and in that one, they did recommend he take care to preserve the facilities, infrastructure, and improvements to the park in their current state.

Then we proceed to Step 4. The district court judge appoints three special commissioners.  These are disinterested real property owners in Freestone County who will ultimately decide the valuation of the property or the just compensation. They hear evidence that can be submitted by both parties and they are — their charge is to determine the current fair market value of the property, which we would then be expected to pay.

We can take immediate possession of the property if we pay the amount of the special commissioners award into the court registry.  Those funds become available to the landowner at that time, we get possession, and then we can proceed to Step 4 – or I’m sorry, Step 5, which is that either party may object to the special commissioner’s award.  If somebody objects, then that proceeds to a civil jury trial and then, of course, that judgment — just like any others — can be appealed through the court system all the way up to requesting the Texas Supreme Court take on the case.

And so once all the avenues of appeal have been exhausted, we would pay the – whatever difference in value, if there is any, in the final award from what the special commissioner’s court has done and we would take full ownership of the land at that point.

So with that, staff recommends the Commission adopt the following motion:  The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission moves to authorize the Executive Director to use the power of eminent domain to acquire approximately 5,000 acres of land in Freestone County, including all associated water rights, easements, and assets, to preserve and expand Fairfield Lake State Park and adopt the resolution attached as Exhibit B.

And this concludes my presentation.  I’m available for any questions.  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, James.

Commissioners, anybody have a question for James?

MR. MURPHY:  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Before we move on, I have a request I want to Commission to consider.  I’d like to discuss a concern that we’ve heard from of our stakeholders during public comment period about this action setting a precedent for the Department taking properties like farms, ranches that contain important natural resources.  I think that we should implore — explore tying our own hands, if you will, with a Commission policy that restricts our use of eminent domain to only extraordinary and unusual circumstances like Fairfield, where we’re looking to save a beloved state park already devoted to public use and enjoyment.

The only residents living on this property are the Department employees at the state park and our overnight visitors.  This Commission has zero interest in condemning farms, ranches, working lands and the Department will continue to acquire property for our parks and management areas through voluntary transactions as we have for decades.  We do not take this decision lightly today and certainly understand the concerns we’ve heard so far.  But I view this situation with Fairfield as a one-time event.

After we’ve received public comment from the audience, I would like to entertain a motion from Commissioners to instruct staff to bring a Commission policy for us at a vote at our August Commission Meeting that would limit the use of eminent domain for this body to extraordinary and unusual situations like Fairfield.

If there’s any discussion with Commissioners, I’d like to hear it.  If not, we’re going to let the people that have showed up to speak.

So, Commissioners, anything before we hear speakers?

Okay, very good.

First, Representative Angelia Orr —

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND:  Mr. Chairman, just before we take the vote on eminent domain, are we — are the Commissioners going to get a chance to —



CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Absolutely.

COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND:  Okay, thanks. All right, thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  We’re going to listen to everybody that has come to speak and then we will get right into our discussion.  So first is Representative Angelia Orr.  Angelia is the State Rep for this area and a great friend of — and a wonderful Legislator.  Thank you for making the trip.  Thank you, Angelia.  Welcome.

REPRESENTATIVE ORR:  Thank you. Thank you, Chairman and Commissioners. I appreciate you having this meeting to discuss this today.

Fairfield Lake State Park is located in the new House District 13, which is located in Freestone County. I was elected by 78 percent of the electorate in November of 2022, and I am proud to represent this area of Texas.  This park is precious to our local community, as well as park lovers across the state.

On February 13th, when the park received its notice to vacate, we quickly realized how precious this park was.  My office at the Capitol began receiving calls, e-mails, and messages from our website urging us — the State of Texas — to do anything we could do to save this park.  Our team developed an online petition portal that thousands of everyday Texans signed, signaling their intent for us to help save this park.

The park and the lake have been the backdrop for generations of Texans to come together and celebrate outdoors and the wonderful things that Texas wildlife has to offer for over 50 years.  The overall sentiment is to please save the state park for future Texans to enjoy with their loved ones.  The overwhelming majority that reached out pleaded for us to intervene on behalf of Texans, now and future. Eminent domain is never a decision to be taken lightly.  And while you may hear that one family’s business interest may be important, I would submit to you that the interest of thousands of everyday working class Texans are just as important.  If condemnation isn’t used in this circumstance and if now is not the time, then when?

I stand with you, and I hope that we can move forward to save this park.  Thank you for what you do.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Representative Orr.  Appreciate you coming, making the trip.  Thank you.

I forgot to mention, everyone, if you see the lights up there, it’s the goal to try to keep statements to three minutes or less.

Sandy Emmons, Waxahachie, Texas.  Good afternoon, Sandy. Love the hat.

MS. SANDY EMMONS:  Good afternoon.  Thank you.  It’s vintage.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  It is?  Welcome.

MS. SANDY EMMONS:  Thank you.  And I am via Fairfield.  We have a house in Waxahachie, but the ranch is in Fairfield, so — and our business.  But thank you, Directors and Commissioners, for this opportunity to speak again.  I’m Sandy Emmons.  I’m sure by now y’all have received my e-mails and heard my voice by phone.  I’m passionate about saving the park.  I’m here imploring you to vote yes to initiate condemnation proceedings for the park in order to preserve Fairfield Lake State Park for all Texans.

My husband Andy Don Emmons’ ancestors are part of the founding fathers of Freestone County.  His mom’s side, the Tackers, founded the actual town of Freestone, even brought the peach, Freestone peach.  And then his father’s ancestors go six generations back as farmers, ranchers, educators, and business owners in Fairfield.  Our 780-acre legacy ranch land is located just south of the lake.

As former curator for the Freestone County Historical Museum, I am by nature a preserver and interpreter of the rich history in the area and communities that once inhabited the land where the park and the lake are today.  I was privileged to work with the state archaeologist in 2008.  They were studying over 30 significant sites in the park, including Paleo-Native American woodland finds.  Later this area became significant because of the settlers, the slavery, the plantation life, the post-Civil War, buried gold, legendary ranches, prosperous Freedmen settlements, and the largest and most famous bootlegging operation in Texas:  Freestone County Bourbon Deluxe.  Look that up.

I’m distressed and concerned about the Freedmen cemetery.  Easter Miles, the only headstone, and at least ten other slaves in Freedmen are buried in the area within the park near the campground.  It’s by the northern trails and the boat ramp.  What will become of their final resting area?  There is no easement and it will now be behind locked gates.  What other disturbances could happen to it with commercial development?

If Texas Parks takes ownership, I’m sure you will preserve and respect Easter cemetery.  Texas Parks has an enormous opportunity to bring these stories to life with a significant interpretive trail.  As an annual state park pass holder and owner of a camping trailer, I want to see the park stay a wildlife sanctuary to otters, eagles, fauna, and flora so that generations of children develop a close relationship with nature and become vested in our world’s ecosystem and the importance of preservation for our very civilization.

Personally I’d like to get a camping spot that doesn’t have to be booked months in advance; but in regard to the economic impact, I just want to speak to that very quickly.  We are down in our own business.  We own the Armadillo Emporium, which is on the square in downtown Fairfield.  We are down by 75 percent since overnight camping and fishing tournaments have ended.

We are not the only merchants who have felt this, and many others have voiced the traffic the vanished.  There is no other draw that brings 80,000 visitors and their vacation dollars from Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and other metroplexes.

Just quickly.  In 2018, campers and fishermen equated to 1.15 million in economic value from 67,449 visitors.  But since then, there has been over a 16 percent increase in visitors coming to the Park of the Year in 2022.

I thank you and millions of Texans thank you and please vote yes.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Sandy.  Thank you for making the trip.  75 percent down.  Wow.

MS. SANDY EMMONS:  75 percent down on the weekends for sure and —

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  That’s horrible.  Thank you.

MS. SANDY EMMONS:  — some of our weekday time too.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  I can assure you we will do everything we can to protect those cemeteries and graves.

MS. SANDY EMMONS:  Thank you.


MS. SANDY EMMONS:  That’s what I really appreciate.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Next is Andy Don Emmons. I don’t see any peaches, Andy.  You didn’t bring any?

MR. ANDY DON EMMONS, JR.:  Well, I’m not in the peach business no more; but I think I’m going to have a load of melons probably next week, so.


MR. ANDY DON EMMONS, JR.:  Thank you.

Thank you, Director and Commissioners.  My name’s Andy Don Emmons, Jr.  Born and raised in Fairfield, Texas, into a sixth generation farm and ranch family, just south of Fairfield State Park.  I’m here to ask you to vote yes to initiate condemnation proceedings for this park and lake area.

Throughout my childhood, I was raised to be a steward of the land that my ancestors cherished.

In fact, I won the State Future Farmers of America Wildlife Management Award when my — in 1985 for my senior project.  Some of my fondest memories are fishing with family and friends at the lake.  My first and only bass fishing that I ever won was at the Fairfield Bass Club Junior Tournament at the park.  I caught a 10-pound striper and, boy, I was proud and I still have the little trophy they gave me.

I guess you can say I was an early contributor to all those billions of dollars that bass fishing has brought to Congressional District No. 6 over the years.

Another great experience that shaped my lifelong interest in wildlife management was at the 1980

Freestone County 4-H summer camp that was held in the park. We learned a lot about predatory animal control and learned to identify native plants and species along the trails. And that was a hot summer, if some of y’all remember that.

I’m here on behalf of my family and other landowners south of Fairfield Lake who rely on proper water management regarding the lake itself.  No matter who owns the lake — and for our sake, I hope it will be Texas Parks and Wildlife — the lake levels, inflow and outflow must be maintained.  The State should and needs to step in because it is my understanding that the lake pump stations were tagged out and no water flow has been released from the dams since 2015, which may be in violation of the EPA Clean Water Act agreement.

The legacy landowners are not receiving the water that should be released from the lake into the

Big Brown Creek and Creek Bottom.  Fairfield Lake has not been full since July of 2015, prior to when the mine and power plant became decommissioned around 2018.  It’s vital this lake stays a productive lake and protect the downstream landowners.  I’m sure if water tables were scrutinized downstream since 2015, they might detect a drop as year over year we have seen our tanks and ponds decrease and our steams lose flow.

Our fear is changing the permit for water use and a possible plan to sell the water to a larger metroplex would be very detrimental and I, and other legacy landowners, are confident that Texas Parks and Wildlife would be better stewards than a private company and will think about devastation it could cause to the citizens of Fairfield and Freestone County that rely on our water for all our aspects of ranching and day-to-daily consumption.  Thank you so much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Andy Don.

Thanks for making the trip.  Have a good day.

Next, our friend Andrew Sansom.  He goes by Andy.  Andy retired Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife.  Welcome, Andy.

MR. ANDREW "ANDY’ SANSOM:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission.  Thank you for allowing me to appear before you today, Dr. Yoskowitz.

I appear before you as a former employee of the Department, but also as the owner of a property in Gillespie County that has caused me to fight eminent domain proceedings for the last decade.  For these reasons and in or for general principles, I appear before you as no fan of eminent domain and it should only be used as the last resort and we are there.

I appreciate, Mr. Chairman, all the efforts that you have made and particularly your statement earlier that eminent domain, as a formal policy, should be adopted by the Commission.  It’s fair to say that in a very, very tiny minority of cases has eminent domain ever been used to acquire state parks from landowners or donors and that should continue in the future.

This is a jewel of the state park system.

It is — we’ve invested millions of dollars in the park over the years, and it’s been stated it is one of the primary bass fishing locations in the United States.  I know you all understand that the most difficult thing you have to do in public life is to spend present dollars and make difficult political decisions for people who are not born.

But your action today, should you approve this motion — which I urge you to do — will not only benefit the thousands of people who love this park and use it every year, but for future generations to come.

Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Andy.  Thanks for making the trip and that’s a powerful thought, generations to come.  Thank you.

Kevin Good, Austin, Texas.  Good afternoon, Kevin.  Welcome.

MR. KEVIN GOOD:  Good afternoon, Chairman Aplin, Commissioners.  I come to you as the President of Texans for State Parks and upfront I would like to say we support the resolution that’s proposed.  We do regret that this matter has come to this point and there was not the ability to resolve this issue before these steps are necessary, because we do believe that this is a rare occasion.

Because of that though, we would request that the Agency review its properties, inventory to take actions that would preclude this matter or these types of matters from arising in the future.  I know that there are a number of leased properties.  Most of those are leases with the federal government, but there are parks such as Monahans Sandhills State Park that are leased from private entities and we believe that those — that the Agency should be proactive in trying to avoid these situations in the future.

But with that, I do want to express our support and hope that this matter can be resolved in an equitable matter for all parties and I appreciate the ability to comment on it today. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Kevin.  Thank you for coming.  I can assure you we’re working hard to check all inventories and not let this happen again.

Jeff Stewart. Good afternoon.

MR. JEFF STEWART: Good afternoon, sir.

Thank y’all for allowing us to speak on this.  I’ve been real — I’ve had real mixed emotions about this.  As a commercial broker and a ranch owner, I’m not big on eminent domain.  By the same token, I’m on the State Park Advisory Committee and I’m very much a park’s advocate and I’m very familiar and have used this park many times and it’s a great park.

I — I guess what I would have — and I’m not speaking on behalf of the State Park Advisory Committee.  Andy and I are both members, but we’ve not met as a group.  I’m sure the people on the committee would be in favor of going forward with trying to get the park.  But my big concern on this has been abuse of eminent domain.

And you have answered the question that — or the suggest — you’ve made the suggestion that I would make and that is I think we ought to go forward on trying to figure out an equitable way to get the park.  But I think it’s important that we stress to other landowners this is not a trend.  We haven’t changed policies this.  I think it needs to be really clear.  Otherwise, I think we may chill future land expansions and park acquisitions.

So I think the way you approached that which you’ve already beckoned Council to do, is the accurate way to do that and I appreciate that point of view. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Jeff.  Thank you for coming.  And we agree with you.  We want to assure all landowners that very thing.

Colonel Grahame Jones.  Grahame, good afternoon.

MR. GRAHAME JONES:  Good afternoon, sir.


MR. GRAHAME JONES: Thank you. Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners, Dr. Yoskowitz. I appreciate everyone else being here today on a Saturday morning, now Saturday afternoon.

As y’all know, I worked as a Texas game warden for 27 years, retiring as the Director of Law Enforcement in 2020.  I’m a fifth generation Texan.  My family has ranched, owned land and leased land all over the state.  My grandfather who I’m named after, along with his uncle, were cowboys at the T Anchor in Randall County.

And I’m not telling you all this to impress anyone.  I’m just saying it to make a point that I understand and respect, you know, private lands and private landowners, including the subtleties of owning land and how much that means to a landowner, how important that landowner ownership is.  So I understand that.

Simply put, and as others have said, I’m no fan of eminent domain; but I think with that, you know, this brings a dilemma.  The consideration and use of eminent domain to maintain a current state park, that’s the key.  This isn’t condemnation of land for a tollway.  This isn’t condemnation of private land to erect a cell phone tower or a power line or a pipeline. This is a last resort and exception to the rule to protect public lands and waters.

Texas is at 30 million residents.  We’ve doubled in population since the mid-1980s.  The time we started — that was also the time we kind of started inch up and get closer to get California, who has a population of about 10 more — 10 million more people than we have.

But according to the Texas Demographic Center, the population of Texas could be between 45 and 50 million by 2050.  Sounds like a long time, but it’s really just a generation away.  Some in this room will see that population growth, but certainly our children and our grandchildren will see it and as Andy, Mr. Sansom, mentioned that.

That is why we are here today.  That is why we’re making these difficult discussions.  Y’all are making these difficult decisions because it’s about the future.

In the end — I, we, you — we’re all just trying to do our best to weigh it all, to respect the respect for the landowner, private landowner rights, and projections of population growth, public lands and the value that the bring to all Texans, investment in the future, population growth, land use, access and opportunity.

I see an existing state park with a lake and I see the possibility of that landscape changing, being transformed into something that restricts its long-held use.  In this very specific situation, I must support the investment in the future in order to protect wild places and wild things for all Texans. I appreciate the opportunity to provide this testimony today and appreciate your time.  Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Colonel. Good to see you.

Luke Metzger.  Good afternoon, Luke. Welcome.

MR. LUKE METZGER:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, Chairman and Commissioners.  My name is Luke Metzger.  I’m the Executive Director of Environment Texas.  We’re a nonprofit advocate for clean air and water and parks and wildlife with about 30,000 members and supporters around the state.  And we’re in support of Item 2.

And we don’t take this position lightly.

Eminent domain should be used rarely and only when there’s an overriding public interest and I think it’s a great idea to adopt a policy that makes it clear that we should only use it in extraordinary circumstances like we have here.  It shouldn’t take condemnation to save Fairfield Lake; but given the circumstances, I appreciate greatly the Commission taking this step. The facts strongly support the State’s position.  Texans have enjoyed this land as a state park for over 50 years, and the State has invested over 72 million dollars in the property.  We’re at risk of losing a beautiful natural area that all Texans can enjoy to a private playground for the rich.

Now it’s the right of Todd Interests to earn a profit on their investment.  Most Texans would think a 25 million dollar profit, plus the eternal gratitude of millions of Texans for saving this special place is a pretty good return on investment.  But they refused to take the win and are holding out for even for money.

Unlike most uses of eminent domain, here you will use it to save land, to save habitat for 250 species of wildlife, including the Bald eagle, to save a beautiful lake from being drained and to save the many memories to come for thousands of Texas families getting to spend time together in the great outdoors.  If there were ever a strong case for use of eminent domain, it’s this one.

I know you’d rather not have to go this route, and I certainly wish we didn’t have to; but I’m proud of you for doing what needs to be done to save Fairfield Lake State Park.  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Luke.  Thank you for coming. David Yeates.  Good afternoon, David. Welcome.

MR. DAVID YEATES:  Good to see you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners.  For the record, my name is David Yeates.  I’m here representing only myself.  I’m a fifth generation Texan, a family landowner.  In my professional like, I’ve been a banker, I’ve financed residential developments, I’ve been a policy advocate pursuing eminent domain reform for private landowners for many years.

I’ve spent many years trying to dedicate and successfully, in partnership with a lot of other people, state park funding.  So I have somewhat of an informed perspective on all sides of this issue, as many of y’all likely do as well.

In a pro-growth private land state such as ours, there’s this constant tension between property rights, natural resource conservation, and commerce.

And it’s pretty hard to thread the needle sometimes.  It can be very vexing, as y’all well know.

Mr. Chairman, I really appreciated your comments at the top of the meeting and that gets right to the crux of why I’m here.

Condemning private property is an extraordinary act.  It’s an enormous power.  And while we all would have preferred a different outcome, I can support this action; but only because it’s an existing park, only because it’s a last resort, only because the legal process and the courts and this Commission’s good faith will protect the landowner in this case if condemnation is decided upon.

It’s important for me to state that I would never support — and I know many, many people and I’ve heard from many people, as y’all have as well — would never ever under any condition support using eminent domain to go add on to some other state park or to acquire land to build a new state park and I appreciate the gravity that y’all are taking that concern and that discomfiture in the landowner community.

You know, landowners demographically represent less than 1 percent of our population; but yet they manage 80 percent of our landmass, virtually all of our open space and wildlife habitat.  And that’s not to be taken likely.  This Department has very deliberately and diligently built trust in that community over the last 20-ish years.  That trust should not be taken lightly.  It should not be taken for granted.  It is conditional and it can be ephemeral.  And I appreciate the sincerity that y’all are taking this issue from.

This Department and this Commission going forward need to do its level best to make sure that that trust is protected, repaired if need, and that it’s crystal clear that this Commission’s intent is to do this extraordinary act under only very extraordinary circumstances.

Thank you for your time and for your public service.  Y’all are doing a hard job, and you’re doing it well.  So thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, David.

MR. DAVID YEATES:  Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Good advice and thank you for making your time on a Saturday.

That’s all I have that have asked to speak before the Commission, assuming no one else.

I have a couple letters that I’m going to read and a couple I’m not.  We have a policy that I will read for leadership in community that can’t be here and not others.  I mean, we have a nice letter from Chairman Duggins; but I’m not going to read.  And then from Texas Bass Nation.  And the Commissioners have all seen those.

I do have a letter first that I will read.  This is from the County Judge, Freestone County

Judge Linda Grant.  She says:  The Fairfield State Park is truly a treasure for our small county.  The park draws in people from not only our county, but all over the state.  The bass fishing is some of the best in the state.  The tourism that the park brings has a big impact on our county.

The park being in Central Texas has attracted many families to meet here in a central location for family reunions year after year.  The park is not only famous for fishing and camping, but also for natural habitat that is home so many animals, birds, butterflies, and more.  Many of our county children and adults are able to benefit from the good experiences in nature that they may not have if we don’t have the park.

When I search attractions for Freestone County, the first one that pops up is Fairfield Lake State Park.  The next two are museums that we have.  Our history is so important.  The historical graves that are on the park site are part of all of our history.  They should be preserved.

The loss of Fairfield State Park will definitely have a huge negative impact not only on Freestone County citizens, but also our state.  Signed Judge Linda Grant.

Next comment I have written is from State Representative Ernest Bailes, dated yesterday:  Support for the resolution by Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission regarding the acquisition by condemnation of approximately 5,000 acres of property in Freestone County.

Dear Commissioners, my name is Ernest Bailes and I am currently serving my fourth term as State Representative for House Direct 18.  I currently serve on the Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee of the 88th Legislature and oversee the Texas Parks and Wildlife Agency.

With a background in production agriculture, the words "condemnation" and "eminent domain" are ones that rock me to my very core.  My family has made a living from the soil for generations and a big part of that operation now lies at the bottom of Lake Livingston, roughly 100 miles south of Fairfield we’re discussing today.  I’ve learned much about the taking of land during my time served on the Land Resource Management and Energy Committees.  Texas is a strong property rights state, which is something I’m quite proud of.  To sit and write this letter is a conflict of what my beliefs were, before working so diligently alongside Texas Parks and Wildlife last session to protect the state resource which is more valuable than money alone.

I have thought long and hard about the precedent that this action would set and of the dire consequences in taking no action at all.  For each and every Commissioner who sits up on this dais, I do not envy the brevity of this tough choice which is placed before you.  I seek guidance from the Agency’s mission statement, which is "to manage and conserve natural resources and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations."

This vote is not intended to allow the camel’s nose under the tent with regard to how we conduct business in the State of Texas.  It is not to take land from farmers or ranchers to construct a park for future enjoy.  Most importantly, it should not be construed as "the taking from one for the benefit of others."  I know for a fact that Chairman Aplin has tirelessly negotiated in good faith to acquire this long-standing parkland at a fair price, ensuring that it continues to serve as the treasured jewel that it has been for generations of Texans.  Unfortunately, this developer has refused to participate in any reasonable negotiations.

Allowing the closure of this park for private development and the extractions of 14,000-acre feet of water, will only lead to the complete degradation of this protected resource and the catastrophic loss of the very parkland that this Agency is entrusted to preserve.  As many actions of Legislative Session, the vote is not easy to say the least, though it’s the right thing to do.  I urge you to vote in favor of any action deemed necessary to protect Fairfield Lake State Park.  I thank you for your service and your unwavering dedication to advocating for the present and future generations of Texas.

Respectfully, Ernest J. Bailes, Texas House of Representatives, House District 18.

That’s all that I have to read.  No one else has spoken — has asked to speak.  I’m going to open it up now for Commissioners to mention anything they have and then we’ll go along — go to the next item which will be a motion.

So, Commissioners, anybody have anything they’d like to say?

VICE-CHAIRMAN SCOTT:  Yes.  Thank you,

Chairman.  I can — I can truthfully say that everybody up here is taking this issue very seriously, but I don’t we have any options to save this park.  I would reiterate that we have been putting y’all’s money in this deal for 50 years.  We have a vested interest in this park and people need to recognize that we have put the money up to build it.  We didn’t buy the land to start with, but we deserve to keep this for the people of Texas.  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Dick.


James.  Commissioner Abell.

COMMISSIONER ABELL:  Commissioner Abell.

Along with Commissioner Scott’s comments, pending the outcome of this vote, I’d like to make direct and public plea to Mr. Todd.  I have not seen the interview; but I understand that yesterday he told reporters or showed reporters, those that are site, and said that he’s ready to begin demolition of our facilities as soon as our lease expires on the 13th.

The immediate and intentional demolition of the park facilities and infrastructure are a slap in the face to the taxpayers of Texas that funded their construction in the first place.  I’d like to ask Mr. Todd to delay the destruction of our park facilities pending the outcome of our continuing negotiations and possible condemnation. I think it’s the right thing to do to wait and see what the outcome is. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Thank you, Commissioner.

I certainly echo that.  Thank you very much. A beautiful, beautiful facility with many, many campsites. It’s incredible. It would be horrible to just watch those get destroyed for no reason. Thank you.

Any other Commissioners?  Any questions? Comments?


COMMISSIONER HILDEBRAND:  Sure. Hildebrand.  Commissioners, I think we have a clear duty to act for the greater good of all Texans.  While we have the power of eminent domain, that power should be used sparingly and reluctantly.  In fact, it’s been nearly four decades since we last used it by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.  It should not be a tool for the government to proactively and indiscriminately expand its reach at the expense of the public.  Rather, it is an instrument to protect existing parks and land for the benefit of Texans.

The action today is in line with that principle, and this is a noble cause.  Over 80,000 people visit this park annually.  This Commission is preserving a park that has been used and beloved by Texans for half a century, so it might be enjoyed for generations to come.  And while I understand this process will take some time, I too would respectfully request that in the interim, the developer who has acquired the park, to not destroy the existing park infrastructure and vegetation.  It would be a travesty if this wonderful asset was destroyed prematurely to the detriment of the tens of thousands of Texans each year that enjoy this park.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Jeff.  Well said.

Any other Commissioners?

Commissioner Bell.

COMMISSIONER BELL:  Commissioner Bell, for the record.  Just to echo what my fellow Commissioners have already stated, in terms of the facility itself — the campsites, the cabins, the roads the ShareLunker Program, the bass fishing, the quality of the water of the lake — and asking the current owner not to destroy facilities or items of infrastructure which, in my opinion, would be disrespectful of taxpayer money that was put in there, when a decision could be made to wait at least until the end of the process and if that person should prevail at the end of this process, they are free to do whatever they would like.

But in the interim, not to be disrespectful to our fellow Texans.

And also thank you to Representative Orr who came in and made the commentary about the petitions, the online petition you set up, and the number of people that responded and the heavy — the heavy favorability of folks in terms of supporting the park proper and the issues there and the investment that’s been made and the impact it would have on the community.

So I would hope that as we move through this process, whatever the outcome, that all parties operate aboveboard and in the best faith possible so that we all can continue to have one thing in mind:

That in Texas, our goal is first no harm to Texas and to our fellow Texans.  Thank you.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Commissioner.

Anybody else?

Commissioner Galo.

COMMISSIONER GALO:  I wholeheartedly agree with my fellow Commissioners.  But I want to, I guess, reiterate that this is a very important decision, but we’ve — it’s a very difficult decision for many of us.  And like Andy said, this is a last resort for all of us because we will do very much here believe in the private property rights of all Texans.  But like Colonel Grahame Jones said, we’re taking these actions – this action to maintain a park that’s had a longstanding use.

So as everyone said — as everyone has said here, if there’s ever a time, like Angelia Orr said, to use condemnation and eminent domain, it’s now.

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Thank you, Commissioner.

Anybody else?  Any comments?

This is has been a long, arduous, emotional path.  And it doesn’t even begin to register like it does for our park people that actually call that home and that live there and have been uprooted because we’ve just run out of time.  And it doesn’t even compare to the people in the community that live there and this is their home and such a big source of their commerce.

As we heard today that, you know, one of the shops right there on the square is down 75 percent on the weekend.

So although this has been a very arduous and it’s been particularly emotional for me, it’s been so much more for other people that call this – call this park their home and their park.  So I thank everybody.

We have done what we came here to do.

We’ve communicated.  We’ve listened.  We’ve heard everything.  We’ve listened to everybody.  We understand the information.  So now this is before us, and so now it’s a decision.

So I’m going to read a motion to make sure I get it right and then see if I can get a motion and a second from a Commissioner.

The motion is:  That Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission moves to authorize the Executive Director to use the power of eminent domain to acquire approximately 5,000 acres of land in Freestone County, including associated water rights, easements, and assets to preserve and expand Fairfield State Park and adopt the resolution attached in Exhibit D.

I would accept a motion.


CHAIRMAN APLIN: So moved, Commissioner


COMMISSIONER ABELL: Commissioner Abell second.

CHAIRMAN APLIN: Commissioner Abell second.  All those in favor signify by saying aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Any opposed?

Hearing none, motion carries.

Thank you.

We’ll move on now to the second motion, which is something that I mentioned or alluded to early on in this meeting and many of the speakers have spoken to that. So the timing is really good. The second motion is this:  The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission moves to instruct the Executive Director to prepare a Commission policy restricting that exercise of power of eminent domain to extraordinary and unusual situations like Fairfield State Park for consideration during the August 24 Commission Meeting.

I would accept a motion and second from Commissioners.

COMMISSIONER GALO:  I so move, Commissioner Galo.


CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Second Foster.  All those in favor signify by saying aye.

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN APLIN:  Any opposed?

Hearing none, motion carries.

Dr. Yoskowitz, this Commission has completed its business.  I declare us adjourned at 1:00 p.m.

I want to thank everybody for coming for a Saturday, everybody for weighing in on such a critically important topic.  Thank y’all.

(Special Commission Meeting Adjourns)

In official recognition of the adoption of this resolution in a lawfully called public meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, we hereby affix our signatures this _____ day of ______________,________.


Arch "Beaver" Aplin, III, Chairman


Dick Scott, Vice-Chairman


James E. Abell, Member


Oliver J. Bell, Member


Paul Foster, Member


Anna B. Galo, Member


Jeffery D. Hildebrand, Member


Robert L. "Bobby" Patton, Jr., Member


Travis B. Rowling, Member




I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand Reporter in and for the State of Texas, do hereby certify that the above-mentioned matter occurred as hereinbefore set out.

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such were reported by me or under my supervision, later reduced to typewritten form under my supervision and control and that the foregoing pages are a full, true, and correct transcription of the original notes.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Turn in date _____ day of ________________, ________.


Paige S. Watts, CSR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2025

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