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Plans Move Forward For GBRA Lake Ban, Spill Gate Inspection

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

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority managers could be in court by December to answer questions about plans to drain four lakes to relieve water pressure on old spill gates. Agreements were reached between opposing attorneys in state district court in Seguin on Wednesday.

A full hearing on the dewatering is not until October 2020.  But Attorney Doug Sutter, who represents lake property owners, wants answers from GRBA leadership before then to prepare his case.

“We’re coming after them to say you need to be forced to do what the statues says you’re supposed to do and that’s repair and replace these dams and not leave it to the property owners,” he said.

The GBRA reports it does not have the $180 million to bring all the spill gates up to code and has been losing a couple of million dollars a year in recent years on its hydroelectric business because of the cost of upkeep on the aging dams. 

Lake property owners fear property appraisal reductions of 20% to 50%, based on various estimates, if the lakes are lowered. They said cities, counties and school districts will lose property tax revenue and the tax burden will be shifted to all taxpayers in the area to make up the difference.

GBRA attorney Lamont Jefferson, like Sutter, wants progress in the case too.

“We were able to work out our differences and we've got a schedule in place that’s reasonable and doable,” he said.

The GBRA reports failure of the old spill gates is a threat to public safety and firmly believe it could happen anytime.  All the spill gates are around 90 years old.  Draining the lakes is the answer, according to the GBRA.

Both Sutter and Jefferson appeared in state district court in Seguin on Wednesday for a hearing to set a timeline on discovery and depositions in the case.

In a different court matter, State District Judge Stephen Ables denied a request from a Lake Placid resort to be excluded from a ban on water recreation while a safety inspection of a nearby spill gate continues.

Byron Riedel owns Son’s Island and said he wanted to be excluded from the ban because it comes at the busiest time of the year.

“We already had over 200 reservations, you know the average reservation... they end up bringing 10 people out. They can bring up to 15, so that’s 2,000 people that this has affected in the last two weeks,” he said.

An ordinance implemented by the GBRA keeps water recreationists off Lake Placid, LakeGonzales and Meadow Lake until safety inspections are completed and unsafe zones around the dams are created. Dams on two other GBRA lakes have failed, most recently at Lake Dunlap in May.

Transparency Note: GBRA lead attorney Lamont Jefferson is also chairman of the board of Texas Public Radio.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.