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August 12, 2011:

  • Potential New State Parkland Acquisition on the Horizon
    Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), if it acts quickly, has the potential to acquire approximately 3300 acres of land in Palo Pinto and neighboring Stephens County (about 70 miles west of Fort Worth) in order to create a new state park to replace the state-owned Eagle Mountain property near Fort Worth that was sold to Tarrant Regional Water District for a regional park a few years ago.

    A few years ago as a result of several factors TPWD divested itself of the property on Eagle Mountain Lake near Fort Worth that was owned by the agency but never developed as a state park. The Texas Legislature in the 2007 session appropriated funds from the sale of Eagle Mountain Lake to TPWD for the 2008-2009 biennium with the proviso that the funds (approximately $9+ million) be used to purchase land for a large park near Fort Worth.

    Over the past four years TPWD has diligently pursued acquiring land in the area west of Fort Worth that would be suitable for a new state park (the agency has looked at 100 tracts of land in the area over that period of time). The agency was not able to complete that task during the 2008-2009 biennium but the Legislature allowed the appropriation to be carried over into 2010-2011. Last year TPWD was actively working on a likely acquisition that appeared to fit the bill until the agency encountered as part of its due diligence evidence of contamination on the property that would have required a rather massive expenditure of funds for clean-up in order to use the area as a park. Earlier this year that prospect was ruled out entirely, and TPWD began focusing on other possibilities.

    Working with The Nature Conservancy a new potential park site has been identified. The Nature Conservancy has obtained options on three different parcels of land totaling about 3300 acres in parts of Palo Pinto and Stephens Counties, just west of the small town of Strawn in Palo Pinto County (approximately 3/5 to 2/3 of the property is in Palo Pinto County). There is another parcel of about 100 acres around Lake Tucker (which itself is about 80 surface acres) that is owned by the City of Strawn (Lake Tucker is the City’s water supply) and is made available for public recreation by the City for a couple of months during the summer each year. The land is north of I-20, accessible off Highway 16.

    The three tracts include one tract of approximately 1200 acres, another of approximately 1900 acres, and a 45-acre in-holding. The total acquisition price is about $7.6 million.

    TPWD has talked with the City leadership in Strawn about an arrangement whereby the area around Lake Tucker would be operated as part of a state park and made available on a longer basis each year for public recreation. The City leadership is very interested in that prospect. The Lake is in the middle of the proposed state park. Taken as a whole the property in question is a relatively long and narrow, linear tract of land; but it is at the juxtaposition of the Cross Timbers area and the upper reaches of the Edwards Plateau. It includes 300-year-old post oaks, part of Palo Pinto Creek, and a portion of the area known as the Palo Pinto Mountains (go to this Wikipedia link for information on the Palo Pinto Mountains).

    There is not much infrastructure on the property at present. The land lends itself to passive stewardship, the likely scenario for the parkland for the next few years. Although master planning and design for the park could and probably would begin during the coming biennium, it probably would not be until the 2015 state legislative session that the agency would be able to obtain an appropriation of funds sufficient for development of park infrastructure on the property. There could be limited, low-impact use allowed on the property prior to that development.

    If TPWD is going to be able to acquire this property at this point, the funds to acquire the property must be encumbered by August 31 of this year, which is the end of the state’s fiscal year 2011. During the recent legislative session the Legislature did not carry over to the 2012-2013 biennium the appropriation of the money to TPWD that came from the sale of the Eagle Mountain Lake property. What the Legislature did was to set that money aside as dedicated funds that could only be used for acquisition of parkland along the same lines as the previous appropriation; but since the money was not actually appropriated for the 2012-2013 biennium, TPWD could not spend the money during the upcoming biennium. The Legislature would have to come back into session before an appropriation could be made for any acquisition. If, however, funds appropriated for this biennium are encumbered by August 31, TPWD can proceed to acquire the property.

    Under the terms of the carry-over appropriation for this biennium TPWD has to have approval from the Legislative Budget Board to move forward. TPWD officials visited with the members of the LBB – the Speaker of the Texas House, the Lt. Governor, and the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committee – on the possible acquisition over the past few weeks. On August 11 the agency received a letter of approval from the LBB to pursue the acquisition. TPWD also has the support of local county officials and local and Fort Worth area state legislators for the acquisition.

    The agency needs to complete its due diligence to determine if there are any problems with regard to the property such as the contamination that was found on the parcel of land under consideration earlier. Acquisition would be contingent on a finding that there were no such problems or that any problems could be resolved. TPWD does not anticipate, however, that the land under consideration has the contamination issues the other parcel did. There are four old stripper wells on the property, but their production is declining, and they are probably in the last stages of their useful life. TPWD would not be able to acquire all of the mineral rights to all three parcels. TNC is getting or has obtained surface land protections as part of the acquisition process, but obviously that does not provide an ironclad guarantee of protection. Fortunately the property under consideration is outside the Barnett Shale.

    The Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission, governing body for the agency, meets on August 24/25 at TPWD HQ in Austin, and it must give the go-ahead for the acquisition at that point in order to get the funds encumbered by August 31. Public comment on the proposed acquisition may be made during the annual public meeting of the Commission that begins at 2 PM on August 24 in the Commission hearing room or during the scheduled agenda item at the Commission’s regular business meeting on August 25 that begins at 9 AM. For more information, go to:
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