SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – The draining of four area lakes will not begin Monday as scheduled. A judge has temporarily stopped the dewatering until he can hear more testimony in a hearing that started Wednesday in a standing-room only courtroom at the Guadalupe County Justice Center.
Two groups of lakefront property owners have filed lawsuits against the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority in an effort to block them from draining Lake Gonzales, Lake McQueeney, Lake Placid and Meadow Lake. The GBRA cites safety issues following the collapse of the spill gates at Lake Wood and Lake Dunlap, but a former GBRA executive testified Wednesday that the decision to let the lakes go was made several years ago.
Former GBRA executive manager James Murphy says while he worked for the Authority from 2008 to 2016 , the board considered several options to generate revenue. He said it was a matter of coming up with a new source of revenue for the dams or letting them go.
“By default, by not pursuing a new source of revenue that’s not otherwise encumbered by obligations, GBRA deliberately chose this path to do away with the lakes,” said Murphy.
Houston attorney Doug Sutter, who represents nearly 300 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against GBRA, said Murphy’s testimony indicates the decision to dewater the lakes was not made because of safety issues.
“What I think we’ve established is that the decision to drain these lakes was made years ago, not in August of 2019,” said Sutter.
Hunter Croan, who owns homes in Lake McQueeney and Lake Dunlap believes the GBRA is exaggerating the dangers of the aging dams. He was at his Lake Dunlap home when the spill gate collapsed in May.
“I was drinking coffee and the water slowly started going down. They didn’t blow the sirens until 2 1/2 hours after the dam broke, so I didn’t know what was going on,” Croan said.
The GBRA argues that the aging dams, which are more than 92 years old, pose a hazard.
“It’s not a hazard, especially if they monitor restricted zones on the lakes,” said Croan.
Chris Nelligan-Davis, owner of Red Beard Boats, says draining the lakes would be an economic blow for him.
“If they drain Lake McQueeney, it will essentially kill my business or put a big wrinkle in all my investments,” he told KTSA News.
He was wearing a t-shirt with the words “Come and Lake it.”
Celina Ross says those t shirts were sold to raise money to help pay the attorneys’ fees. Several plaintiffs wore them to Wednesday’s hearing, but they weren’t allowed in the courtroom. They went to the restroom and turned the shirts inside out to hide the message.
“That’s okay. When we see the inside out tags we know that’s a lot of heart. It’s that spirit that we all have,” said Ross.
She’s hoping a solution can be worked out to keep the water in the lakes.
“Leave the water in the lakes for the time being until we can get a plan in place and get some funding,” she said.
Attorney Ricardo Cedillo represents 10 lakefront property owners. He says the draining of the lakes would be a devastating blow to the local economies.
Testimony in the hearing on both lawsuits is scheduled to resume Monday in the court of visiting judge Stephen Ables.