Freestone County denounces eminent domain for Fairfield Lake State Park

Todd Interests’ redevelopment would bring $20M annual property tax

Todd Interests' Shawn Todd with Fairfield Lake State Park
Todd Interests' Shawn Todd with Fairfield Lake State Park (Todd Interests, Google Maps, Getty)

Elected officials in Freestone County overwhelmingly endorsed Todd Interests’ billion-dollar plan to redevelop a state park, while opposing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission’s proposed use of eminent domain.

County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to admonish the state’s decision to use eminent domain to keep Fairfield Lake State Park, which the Dallas-based developer bought from Vistra Energy for more than $100 million on June 1. 

Commissioners cited a projected $20 million in annual tax revenue for Freestone County and the Fairfield Independent School District from the proposed development.

That would be a huge windfall for Freestone County, whose 2022 revenue was about $11 million. It increased its property tax collection by less than $1.7 million in 2022, and taxes from new property accounted for just over $153,000 last year. Fairfield ISD’s total revenue in 2022 was a little over $18 million.

Public opinion around the development, proposed as a $1 billion private resort with 400 luxury homes and a golf course, has shifted since eminent domain entered the conversation, said County Judge Linda Grant. She was previously vocal about saving the park but has shifted her position to match her constituency.

The five county commissioners called Texas Parks and Wildlife’s decision to use eminent domain “an abuse of power and government overreach.”

Vistra Energy cut more than 600 jobs in Freestone and Milam counties when it closed two coal-fired power plants in 2018. That coincided with its decision to sell off the 5,000 acre park and cooling lake, which it had leased to the state at no cost since 1978.

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“The citizens of Freestone County lost a large portion of our tax base when our power plant and coal mine closed,” the letter states. “For TPWD to steal an opportunity for us to replace that tax base would be selfish.”

Previous estimates by Todd Interests have stated the development could add up to 200 jobs and $25-to-$50 million in tax revenue for the county and school district. 

The parks commission voted unanimously on June 10 to pursue eminent domain, in a move to save the state park, which sits in East Texas, between Waco and Nacogdoches. Todd’s own letter condemning eminent domain lashed out at Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission chairman Beaver Alpin, the billionaire owner of Buc-ee’s convenience stores.

“The people that live in Freestone County are not really pleased with what Chairman Aplin has decided to do,” Todd told The Real Deal last week. “I have met dozens of fine citizens of that community, and they understand when the government runs amok. They completely see what’s happening here.”

Aplin has said the move for eminent domain, or condemnation, is a last resort to save the “beloved park.”

Freestone County commissioner Lloyd Lane said of the parks department officials: “They don’t live here. They don’t pay taxes here … admit you did wrong, you didn’t do your duties, and stop this right now.”

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