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GBRA Reaches Deal With Some Lake Property Owners Over Dams, Spill Gates

The floodgate is to the left of the dam on Lake McQueeney.
Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority has reached a settlement agreement with about ten property owners on Lakes McQueeney and Placid over aging dams and spill gates.

Two groups of property owners sued GBRA after it announced plans to drain four lakes following spill gates collapses at Lake Wood in 2016 and Lake Dunlap in 2019.

The new agreement will include contracts with the proposed Water Control Improvement Districts on each lake. The contracts will include spill gate replacement and dam repairs and leave water levels where they are .

The settlement was with a smaller group of plantiffs represented by San Antonio attorneys Ricardo Cedillo and Les Strieber.

In a statement to TPR, Cedillo said some of the settlement hinges on several upcoming ballet initiatives that lakeside property owners will consider in November.

“The terms of the settlement are significant in that they outline specific deliverables, which are now dependent upon the passage [of] three initiatives on this fall’s November 3rd ballot,” the statement said. “This means the residents and voters of Lake McQueeney now have a chance to control their own destiny, secure their beloved lake for decades to come, and protect their property values, jobs, economy and the community as a whole.”

The key proposal will levy a tax to help fund the repair and replacement of the spill gates and dams, if passed.

GBRA declined an interview request from TPR, but in a written statement said "GBRA hopes that the remaining plaintiffs will choose the proactive, positive path forward rather than continue with a lawsuit which cannot result in a sustainable solution to preserve the lakes, rather only spends both the plaintiff’s and GBRA’s customers’ precious resources."

Houston attorney Doug Sutter represents a larger group of plaintiffs and planned to continue his lawsuit. He said the settlement in the other case left the financial burden for replacement and repairs on lake property owners and did nothing to resolve the legal issues at the heart of the case.

"That so-called settlement doesn't have any effect legally on our claim at all, and we didn't anticipate that it would," he said. "We anticipated that this would happen."

He speculated that the agreement may have been motivated by costly legal fees for the plaintiffs.

GBRA and the plaintiffs represented by Sutter failed to reach their own settlement agreement in mandatory mediation. Ahead of the mediation, Sutter asked the court to allow the parties to skip over the meetings because he expected GBRA to not negotiate in good faith. The court declined his request.

"Well, I can't tell you what happened in the mediation, but I can tell you that my opinion about GBRA negotiating in good faith that I had before the mediation has not changed today," he said.

Sutter said his case will proceed, but the initial October trial might be delayed by a GBRA push to have the lawsuit thrown out entirely.

"They just say there is no jurisdiction because they claim that GBRA has immunity from this lawsuit, and therefore cannot be sued. That's their argument," he said. "And our argument is that we believe that we have ample case authority showing that GBRA does not have immunity and can be sued."

The jurisdiction claim will be heard on August 20, and Sutter expects the decision to be appealed to a higher court no matter what the outcome is.

Nearly century-old spill gates on Lakes Dunlap and Wood have collapsed in recent years, leaving only the Guadalupe River running through them.

Lawsuits were filed by lake property owners after the GBRA said it did not have the funding to properly repair the dams and spill gates on its own and planned to drain the lakes to prevent further collapses and potential property damage or loss of life. Lake property owners said that would ruin property values, decrease property tax revenues for school districts, and harm the local economy.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.
Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@tpr.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.

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