Thursday, August 31, 2006

"It increasingly seems that in Austin, the fix is in."


A Texas two-step

Aug. 31, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

If you believe that 400 pristine acres bordering Eagle Mountain Lake in northwest Tarrant County are destined to become public parkland just because there is overwhelming popular support for such a move, you are a little naive.

Never mind that Tarrant County -- the third-most-populous of Texas' 254 counties with 1.7 million people -- lacks a single state park (even though the state has approximately 110 state parks and natural areas).

Never mind that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission claims that one of its highest priorities is to create more urban parks to serve exploding populations in the state's relentlessly growing metropolitan areas.

Never mind that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department bought the 400-acre Eagle Mountain site a quarter-century ago with the intent of making it a state park.

Never mind that there is ample money available to develop the site as a limited-use, nature-oriented park that would provide badly needed open space and a haven for wildlife in one of the fastest-developing areas in Texas.

Never mind that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department could use already available natural-gas drilling revenues from the site to help pay for the park development. Or that the Tarrant Regional Water District and Tarrant County have offered to buy the property, develop it as a limited-use, nature-oriented park and assume operation of it.

Never mind that there's a huge grassroots push throughout the state to provide much more money -- not less -- for Texas' money-starved, pathetically deteriorated state parks system.

You see, all those things may not matter.

It increasingly seems that in Austin, the fix is in.

It appears that state officials -- most notably Gov. Rick Perry and state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson -- are leaning strongly toward selling a big chunk of the 400 acres to some developer, who then could carve up the site for high-dollar homes.

In other words, it's all about the money.

As Star-Telegram reporter R.A. Dyer chronicled in a Wednesday story, Perry's office "worked aggressively behind the scenes to facilitate the auction" of the 400 acres "to the highest bidder," according to documents obtained by the newspaper.

One of the scenarios discussed, the article said, was to set aside only 100 acres of the 400-acre site as a "conservation easement" that would not be developed. That would tragically diminish the value of the site as a nature-oriented park and haven for wildlife.

Patterson's office has claimed that Perry has the final say-so on the disposition of the property. Perry's office has claimed that Patterson does. Or is it really some money-hungry developer who has the final say? Who's on first, guys?

Patterson has said outright that he favors turning part of the property into a high-dollar residential development.

With all due respect, Commissioner Patterson, high-dollar homes can be built in lots of places without destroying a precious opportunity to create a highly attractive and badly needed urban park on a site that state taxpayers paid for long ago.

Perry has done nothing but talk out of both sides of his mouth on the issue of not only the proposed Eagle Mountain Lake park but funding for state parks in general.

After the enormous public outcry in recent months about the shortsighted, inexcusable neglect of the state parks system during his tenure as governor, Perry suddenly has been publicly professing to be a parks lover.

But actions speak far louder than words. In reality, Perry's actions -- and lack of such -- as governor have consistently been radically anti-parks, including his thumb-twiddling as the parks system became financially emaciated.

In other words, Perry has virtually zero credibility on parks issues. And only he has the power to change that.

It now looks as if Patterson and/or Perry and/or some unnamed developer might announce the fate of the Eagle Mountain Lake park site shortly after the Nov. 7 election.

How convenient -- and cowardly -- that might prove to be.

Governor, we and other North Texas residents want to know now whether you support preserving all 400 acres of the Eagle Mountain Lake site as parkland. What's your answer?

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: