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A Devil of a Deal? State Wants to Swap Much Land (and Money) With Local Homebuilder

On October 12, the Texas Park and Wildlife Department issued a press release that went virtually unnoticed at the time: The state's offering to swap the 20,000-acre Devils River State Natural Area in Val Verde County for 17,638 acres further downriver, which are presently owned by Dallas's Rod Sanders, co-founder of Huntington Homes. The reason for the swap, says the agency: "The ranch has significantly more river frontage and better public access as well as outstanding natural and cultural features."

But as the Associated Press points out, not everyone's so thrilled with the deal, which threatens to ruin what the great Joe Nick Patoski calls on Facebook this morning "Texas' most wonderful paddling experience." (Joe Nick wrote this about his trip down Devils River in '02, and Mike Leggett, writing in the Austin American Statesman, adds: "Iconic and crystalline, this resource-rich river is regarded as the purest natural water in Texas and is considered a sacred spot by anglers, paddlers, campers, hikers and wildlife lovers.") If nothing else, the Texas Rivers Protection Association would like to see the deal delayed, if only because the TPWD's threatening to use all of its land acquisition funds on this one deal -- Sanders will also get a not-too-shabby $8 mil -- and the agency's rushing to get this done by November 4. Says TRPA president Tom Goines: "This reeks of being a very bad deal."

One of the biggest concerns: Sanders -- who, turns out, is also a member of The Nature Conservancy's Texas Board of Trustees -- has had his ranch up for sale for two years, because he's done got "too many ranches now." Which means he may end up selling Devils River State Natural Area to someone else -- someone who might not keep the "pristine waterway" so, ya know, pristine. From the AP piece:

David Honeycutt, an oil and gas man who lives in Austin and owns property near the ranch, thinks the deal is coming together in a "kind of a cowboy way." People have already been caught vandalizing ancient cave paintings, and trespassers leave behind trash and waste, he said. Rather than hand over the only campsite at the top of the river, the state needs to offer more such opportunities for river enthusiasts, he argues.

"We don't have a river like this in Texas," Honeycutt said. "If you kill the river, you kill the goose that laid the golden egg."

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