Historical Parker County is quickly disappearing in order to accommodate urban flight from larger metropolitan areas. More homes are slated to be razed and pastures paved over as our ever-disappearing scenic county barters historically recognized structures and their accompanying property in exchange for urban amenities.
On Sept. 18, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Public Notice regarding Parker County’s East Loop Project as it relates to the Byron Farmstead Historical District, an undisturbed 85.5 acre ranch dating back to 1893 described as “...a pristine example of an intact historic dairy operation, period residential and agricultural structures, and associated landscape.”
Phase 2 of The East Loop Project is scheduled to proceed as part of a previously approved and funded transportation bond. Rather than intentionally avoiding the historical district, the proposal splits it nearly through the middle, forever diminishing the property directly adjacent to a new, main thoroughfare. Instead of minimizing interference, Phase Two dramatically minimizes the property and displaces the Farmstead’s resources. In addition, this plan adversely affects the property’s 127-year-old log cabin through drainage and encroachment.
The East Loop Project requires public meetings. On Feb. 6 at Mary Martin Elementary, residents were given the opportunity to submit their suggestions and comments on paper to be filed as an afterthought instead of offering tax-paying Parker County residents the opportunity to be true stakeholders and provide insight into unavoidable irreparable damages imposed by elected officials to the historically registered Byron Farmstead.
With a handful of residents in attendance, one resident asked if he could share his thoughts from the stage to those present. Judge Deen responded by saying, “There wouldn’t be enough time.” Judge Deen then adjourned the meeting from the stage with the assistance of a microphone. In a rush to meet county agendas and engineering agreements, implementation of Phase Two of The East Loop Project regulated all residents from speaking; and worse, displayed a lack of regard for public interest.
After the conclusion of the meeting, the aforementioned resident began speaking with the microphone only to have Judge Deen forcibly take it away. The resident then stepped to the bottom of the stage and shared his thoughts. Typically, officials would use public meetings as an opportunity to make informed decisions; however, this was neither a priority during nor after the meeting.
The path of the East Loop Project is being forced onto rural Parker County residents and ramrodded through our countryside by any means necessary. The 85.5 acre Byron Farmstead is just one place, but it is one of only a few complete examples of historical Parker County..
Phase Two does not represent the wishes of residents because obvious issues are met with stale justifications like “mitigation,” “consideration,” and “feasib[ility],” all of which mean absolutely nothing to concerned citizens. The Historical Commission and over a dozen individuals are on record as interested stakeholders of their community, begging to save an irreplaceable historical farm. All have been duly noted, compiled, and flushed through the bureaucratic p-trap. Our elected officials won’t listen. Engineers won’t disapprove when money is involved. The East Loop Project disregards preservation efforts and feedback from locals who care about the integrity of their hometown.
Several alternative routes were offered and reviewed. They are all either too expensive, too close to natural resources, or present too much of an adverse effect. But destroying a historical property isn’t a big deal. After all, it’s an easy target and locals have learned the human aspect is less important when compared to concrete roadways. It’s easy to get away with it when citizens and the Historical Commission are treated like a nuisance. According to the Texas Historical Commission, Section 106 regulations “Only require considerations of avoidance and minimization alternatives to preserve historic cultural resources, but do not guarantee a preservation outcome.” In addition, because the project is fully funded by Parker County, TxDOT has no accountability factor in the county’s heavy-handed disregard for procedural safeguards. Too many families have already been displaced. Once our history is gone, it cannot be replaced.
Ross Mullens is a Weatherford native, teacher and pastor.