PORT MEETING Port Commissioners are scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. today at the Administration Building, 1100 Cherry St. in Freeport. The meeting agenda includes a closed-door discussion of approving use of eminent domain to acquire remaining properties in the East End of Freeport. A public vote is scheduled to follow the end of the closed session. A full meeting agenda is available at portfreeport.com.
FREEPORT — Port Freeport officials plan to use eminent domain in their efforts to acquire more East End properties, but city leaders said residents shouldn’t overreact to the action.
Mayor Troy Brimage announced during Monday’s city council meeting that city officials are aware of the port’s intention to pursue eminent domain for the East End properties. The Port Commission is scheduled to make that intention official when it meets today.
People hear “eminent domain” and tend to want to fight right away, but that will not be the case here, Brimage said.
“I think the important thing for everyone to do is not to get upset and lose sight of what’s happening and what’s going on so we can make the best decisions for the people of Freeport,” Brimage said.
Through the process of eminent domain, the port first will present a bona fide offer to the owners of individual properties, Executive Director Phyllis Saathoff said.
“We have to wait 30 days. If they do not respond with an acceptance or are willing to negotiate, then we have the choice of filing with the Brazoria County courts,” Saathoff said.
If the port files with the court, then a special commission made up of landowners in the community determines a fair price for the property. The landowner can either accept that amount or take it to trial.
The East End properties sought by the port cover a 28-block area that is catty-cornered against the port, with FM 1495 and East Second Street bordering the remaining two edges of the property. A majority of the individual properties within the perimeters of the East End already have been acquired by the port, Saathoff said.
According to port officials, they began obtaining properties throughout the East End area in 1999. Discussion among port board members on the section of Freeport began well before that, making it a little more than two-decade venture.
Issues with clearing titles and locating deeds to some of the individual properties have elongated the process. The decision to pursue eminent domain was not rushed or taken lightly, Saathoff said.
“We carefully considered this. We made sure that we had acquired as many properties as possible, but we could spend another decade doing this and still reach this point,” Saathoff said.
The port has been as reasonable as possible while obtaining properties throughout the East End area by paying closing costs and providing legal assistance for owners, she said. It also has provided newly built homes through its SWAP program, allowing East End residents to exchange their original deed for that of the new home, Saathoff said.
There are 12 owner-occupied homesteads within the area the port targeted for acquisition, and port officials have continued to communicate with them in an effort to reach an amicable sale, she said.
The port does not have specific plans for the use of this land, but it will be beneficial as Port Freeport continues to grow, Saathoff said.
Saathoff emphasized the land is not a part of plans for the Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project.
“This is a positive thing for Port Freeport and the community. It will create jobs and support the growth of the port,” Saathoff said.
The city has continued to fund repairs and maintain the area and will continue to do so moving forward, Brimage said.
“The council has not ignored the residents down there, and we will continue to take care of the East End until this is settled,” Brimage said.