SEGUIN, Texas — The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority’s monthly board meeting included some heated moments on Wednesday, as residents voiced concerns and little support about the recent announcement to drain the other four lakes under the GBRA authority.
The GBRA made the announcement last week, saying they would drain lakes Meadow, Gonzalez, Placid and McQueeney after Labor Day to mitigate safety risks. The decision came as the community is still recovering and trying to move on from the Lake Dunlap dam collapse that has altered the local way of life for the time being.
GBRA General Manager Kevin Patteson took to the podium at the start of the meeting, explaining safety was their top priority and he had to make a “very unpopular decision.”
“Last week I made that decision, and it was terrible to have to make that decision to go ahead and lower the gates,” Patteson said.
Charlie Hickman, the GBRA's executive manager of engineering, explained how the aging hinges failed on the dam at Lake Dunlap, saying they showed significant signs of wearing.
They were able to analyze the spill gate when a diver was able to access the hinge points at the bottom of the gates.
“What the inspection report released last week tells us is that because the steel is 90 years old, and it's either underwater or inside concrete, it's starting to deteriorate,” Patteson said. “So we don't believe we have a safe condition. We can at least alleviate that condition by lowering the gates.”
Hickman said the hinges didn’t function the way they were designed to on the decades-old spillgates.
Jonathan Stinson, GBRA deputy general manager, said people were not heeding the warning signs placed around the dams and they still have substantial concerns about recreational activity.
Then, for nearly two hours, residents of the four lakes took the podium expressing their concerns and frustrations over the entire situation.
Some people said if the lakes were drained, their livelihoods would be destroyed.
“You’re going to kill my business, kill my property value, and I’m not going to be able to support my family,” said local business owner Chris Davis, addressing the board beside his wife and child.
Another small business owner said, “My whole life was to live on Lake McQueeney, but you guys have taken it away, every bit of it.”
Other residents voiced their frustrations over the GBRA’s lack of transparency. One Lake McQueeney resident saying the GBRA was working with the lake association, and then made the surprise announcement to drain the lakes.
“You have taken a remorseless attitude of blameless arrogance by not accepting responsibility,” said one resident. “Shame on you for not caring enough and being a disgrace to Texas.”
More concerns revolved around the loss of property values, as well as dangers to fish, wildlife and cypress trees.
“It breaks down to this community of sales tax dollars, schools, it will kill us,” said one angry resident.
Other residents pleaded with the board to find other options.
“Don’t wash your hands of this, there’s a means and ways of fixing this,” said one resident. “We’ve got to work as a team, we don’t need a divide.”
Even though the GBRA Board said they were listening, the burden seems to have fallen on Patteson.
"Somebody could get hurt, somebody could get killed. And that’s what keeps me up at night," Patteson said. "At the end of the day, it's a collective effort. I mean, we've had a team of engineers looking at this. I didn't want to waste any time, basically. I did want to get property owners some notice."
The GBRA said the draining process will begin on Sept. 16 with Lake Gonzales, and will move upstream, ending with Lake McQueeney.
However, local government officials said they're still hopeful, and trying to find options to mitigate safety and still avoid draining the lakes.
“The potential is there to find additional solutions and not have to drain them,” said Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher. “There are some additional measures can be made to mitigate the safety risk and possible loss of life.”
District 44 Rep. John Kuempel said he’s been in the touch with Gov. Greg Abbott’s office on multiple occasions trying to seek intervention.
“I’m sixth-generation Guadalupe County, I’ve spent my entire life on Lake McQueeney,” Kuempel said. "To understand the true impact that lowering these lakes will have – not only on the lake business owners, but community-wide, county-wide – would be potentially devastating, and it scares me.”