Controversy over Water District’s hunting camp ought to be over

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The very thought of public land being made available by public officials for private use is cause for suspicion and, in some cases, leads to charges of unethical or illegal activity.

So it was with 560 acres of property on Lake Bridgeport owned by the Tarrant Regional Water District.

During the recent campaign to fill three of the five TRWD board seats, one of the charges from challengers was that board members were using the publicly owned land as a private hunting and fishing camp, in violation of state law.

One of the challengers, Mary Kelleher, won a seat on the board and brought with her healthy skepticism and legitimate demands for more transparency.

As reported in a detailed article by Star-Telegram reporter Gordon Dickson, who recently visited the property with Kelleher, the land and small cabin on it are used by employees of the Water District both as a perk for the workers and a way to help maintain it without the district spending any money on it. All current board members say they have never hunted or fished there.

Vic Henderson, TRWD board president, explained that the property was bought for flood control when the lake was built in the 1930s and, because it lies in a flood plain, cannot be sold.

The 30 or so employees who hunt deer, feral hogs and turkey there pool their money to maintain the land and stock the cabin. The employees are required to volunteer for two weekend property clean-ups each year.

In addition to employee use, officials said the property sometimes is used as a base camp for environmental workers who operate on the west side of the lake, and occasionally youth groups are invited by employees to learn archery, fishing and gun safety.

After the visit to the land, Kelleher seemed satisfied that there was no misuse of the property and that it was a legitimate perk for employees at all levels, a perk she said she would not like to see them lose.

In other words, despite the charges from a heated campaign, close examination showed there was no there there.

But still her concerns about transparency proved valid. If the general public had known about the property and its uses before, it probably never would have been a campaign issue.

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