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Lake Residents' Fight Against GBRA 'Dewatering' Plan Leads To Delay

Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
Lake McQueeney

The draining of four area lakes will not begin on Monday because a state district judge in Seguin wants to hear more testimony from plaintiffs seeking to stop the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

Hundreds of residents protested the plan to begin draining the waterways on Monday, Sept. 16. By Wednesday night, it was unclear when the drainings would actually begin.

They said the GBRA will ruin them and their communities economically by draining Lakes Gonzales, McQueeney, and Placid, and Meadow Lake. Meadow Lake residents are also worried about damage to retaining walls, foundations, water wells, cypress trees and wildlife.

The river authority said it was a public safety issue. But Lake McQueeney resident Steve Pritchard argued that testimony from third party engineers on Wednesday proved that's just not the case.

"You may have heard a little bit of that today from the engineering reports," he said. "It's really not in there that there's imminent danger. It's just not in those engineering reports."

The star plaintiff witness on Wednesday was James Murphy, who managed the dams for the GBRA from 2008 to 2016.

He said there were high level talks to let the dams and floodgates fall into disrepair and then force the lakes to be drained. He claimed GBRA directors considered declaring a public safety emergency if anyone complained.

Murphy says there was never a formal vote on the proposal to walk away from the waterways.

"GBRA deliberately chose this path to do away with the lakes," he said. "Nothing will change that fact."

Murphy claimed the GBRA wanted to rid itself of the dams and its money losing hydroelectric business.

The GBRA has argued that the 90-year old floodgates on the lake dams could fail, as they did at Lake Wood in 2016 and Lake Dunlap in May.

It planned to lower the lakes by 12 feet, beginning with Lake Gonzales and then moving up the chain of lakes every three days.

The authority explained it does not have the funding to fix all the floodgates and is seeking public partnerships to do so. Some residents plan to create their own water control districts to raise tax revenue to maintain the dams and floodgates.

Property law attorney John Ferguson is with the San Antonio-based law firm of Drought, Drought, & Bobbitt. He said the GBRA may have the upper hand in this case because it has claimed that lives and property could be lost if they don’t lower the lakes.

“It’s going to be hard to argue against that if their motivation is to protect everyone," he explained.

Many lakeside residents have argued their property values will be cut in half and school funding will suffer as a result.

Lady Harley of Harley Bait Shop and Resale in McQueeney listed the expected consequences of lower lake levels and drops in property values.

"Funding for schools are not going to be available," she said. "You know we might lose funding for the schools. We'll have to worry about our houses' foundations. Once that water's gone, what's going to happen to the foundations of people's homes?"

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
People on Lake Placid at Son's Island.

The city of Seguin said there was little it could do to stop the plan. City officials said they had a hard enough time keeping up with the city's cost of maintenance and public safety.

Seguin business leaders said they expected damage to the local tourism industry. Seguin Area Chamber of Commerce President Kendy Gravett said the lakes are a big part of the area's identity, especially to tourists.

"They look at what is there to do in town: 'How does it look? What's interesting?' And the lake has always been a part of that draw."

The lakes support many businesses, including lodges, gas stations, restaurants, bait shops, boat repair shops.

Hilda Balderas started her Mexican food restaurant, Pica Taco, on Lake McQueeney 20 years ago. Her daughter, Roxanne Flores, has been at her side.

Roxanne, translating for her mom, said her mom worried about the loss of jobs and diners in the area. She worried if the dams will ever be the same since the GBRA has no plans to repair them on its own.

"She does not know how they could fix that," she explained, "and how much it would take and maybe this is just something of the beginning of a ... a really hard time to come, to struggle. ..."

Lake residents have also wondered if their property lines will be automatically extended to the new water’s edge as the water recedes.

Ferguson said residents will have to do some research.

“Their gonna have to check with the restrictive covenants in the neighborhood association and HOA," he said. "In their deed, there may be something. Check with the survey itself. That should be in there.”

Norma Martinez contributed to this report.
Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.