AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is petitioning to condemn Fairfield Lake State Park and Fairfield Lake to keep the state park open to the public.

TPWD will use eminent domain to condemn the about 5,000-acre property. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to authorize TPWD to condemn the land at a Saturday special meeting.

“Today’s action comes after TPWD and its commissioners have taken persistent and extraordinary steps to acquire and preserve the park under more amicable terms,” a TPWD release said.

The state park closed to the public June 3, and TPWD’s lease for the state park ends June 13.

The state park, located between Houston and Dallas in Freestone County, opened in 1976 with about 1,821 acres. A coal plant, operated by Vistra, closed in 2018. Rodney Franklin, the director of Texas state parks, said TPWD and other partners contacted Vistra to purchase the state park property since then, but bids were unsuccessful.

Vistra and developer Todd Interests entered a contract in 2022 for a land sale, and the purchase was completed June 1, Franklin said. The state department tried to buy the land sale contract for $25 million for the right to purchase the property from Vistra. But this offer was rejected.

A developer plans to turn the site into a multi-million dollar community with a private golf course.

In a letter to commissioners Tuesday, partners at Todd Interests said they “cannot begin to express our astonishment that officials appointed by Gov. Abbott and approved by Lt. Gov. Patrick and the Texas Senate are considering the condemnation of private property that TPWD had numerous opportunities to acquire.”

The developer did not share a comment after the commission’s decision.

Franklin said the department received 284 written comments on the proposal with about 80% of comments in support.

The commission also voted to begin drafting a commission policy that limits eminent domain to “extraordinary and unusual situations like Fairfield.” The proposal will be considered Aug. 24.

What happens next?

Eminent domain is a legal authority for a governmental entity to take private property for public use, according to the Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights.

James Murphy, an attorney for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, said Texas Parks and Wildlife Code allows the department to acquire park sites by purchase, condemnation or other manner. This includes property already for public use. Condemnation is the process of exercising eminent domain power.

The first condemnation steps include giving a formal written offer followed by a final written offer on or after 30 days. The final offer has to be equal to or greater than the land’s appraised value. The landowner has 14 days to consider the best and final offer.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission also has to authorize the property condemnation.

After these steps and if the offer is not accepted, the Texas Attorney General can petition to condemn the land.

Then, three special commissioners are appointed by a district court judge. They will hear evidence and give the property owners the current fair market value of the property. TPWD will pay the amount and can take possession of the property.

If either party objects to the commissioners’ findings, the case will move to a civil trial, which could be appealed.

After all avenues of an appeal are exhausted, Murphy said TPWD would pay the landowner the value decided by the court and take land ownership.