Preston Harbor Development is closer to becoming reality


What has taken tiny steps over the past decade has begun to move in strides this year. The Preston Harbor Development took the latest one of those strides recently with the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The development, a high-end planned development for the north side of Denison along the east side of the Little Mineral Arm of Lake Texoma, has been in the works for more than a decade. It is often referred to by the name of the developer, Schuler Development. Much of the private land has already been purchased for the more than 3,000-acre project, but all the shoreline, just over 600 acres, is federally-owned.

However, in 2007 Congress passed the Water Resource Development Act mandating the sale of the land to the city of Denison. The city will then in turn sale the land to Schuler Development.

Still the sale was not a done deal with the passage of the WRDA. A 1969 law, the National Environmental Policy Act, requires the Corps, which manages the lake, to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the impacts the development will have on everything from the scenic view to wildlife and water quality.

The draft of that 591-page document was open to public comment in October. The 98 comments were included and addressed in an appendix of the final EIS.

Corps Environmental Analysis and Compliance Branch Chief Stephen Nolen said the comments didn’t result in any substantial changes to the action, only some technical changes to the way the impacts were measured and analysed.

The proposed action is to convey the property, including the shoreline with a deed restriction prohibiting the construction of habitable structures below the highest elevation of the flood pool. This would allow the lake to still be used effectively for flood control. Additionally, a 2005 moratorium on private boat docks would be lifted for that section of land and the Shoreline Management Plan would be modified to allow construction.

It is the least restrictive of the four alternatives listed in the EIS.

The Corps will accept public comments on the final EIS until Aug. 28. They may be submitted by mail to: Mr. Stephen L. Nolen, Planning and Environmental Division (CESWT-PE-E), 1645 S. 101st E. Ave., Tulsa, OK 74128-4629; by fax to: 918-669-7546; or by email to stephen.l.nolen@usace.army.mil.

Once the final comments are received they will be attached to the EIS as part of the Record of Decision.

As work is nearing completion on the study of the environmental impact, work has already begun on the next piece of the puzzle. Denison City Attorney Tom Akins said the survey of the property has already been completed and an appraiser has been hired to determine the fair market value of the property.

The appraiser is selected by and works for the Corps, but the WRDA requires the city to pay for the expenses associated with the land transfer. Akins said the city is passing those expenses on to Schuler Development, which has already made a deposit to pay for the appraisal.

Akins said he didn’t know if a time line had been established for the appraisal process, and attempts to reach the Corps employee responsible for that portion of the process were unsuccessful on Thursday and Friday.

Once the appraisal is completed, the Corps will provide the city with a proposed deed. Akins said it will be the city and Schuler Development’s first opportunity to see if there are any unexpected deed restrictions. What is currently expected are restrictions like a prohibition against building below the highest elevation of the flood pool.

Akins said there is also progress on the Master Development Agreement between Schuler Development and the city. The document will outline the responsibilities of both parties and the time line for infrastructure improvements like water and sewer and roads.

“We’ve made good progress in the last 20-30 days, and we’re hopeful by perhaps as early as the first of October, we’ve got a development agreement authorized by the council and signed by all the parties,” Akins said. And, depending on how long the appraisal takes, the land could change hands by the end of the year.

To download the final EIS or the appendix containing the public comments, find this article at http://www.heralddemocrat.com.