A group of Guadalupe County residents have been busy as beavers with hopes their work will pay off for themselves and others in the surrounding area.
Volunteers have put in thousands of man hours to get to the point of establishing a temporary board of governors for the Lake Placid Water Control and Improvement District, said Kevin Skonnord, a board member and president of the Citizens United for Lake Placid association. The association and Water Control and Improvement District hope to save the dam and spill gates that create Lake Placid and stop them from failing as others have in the area.
“This is similar to what we did for Lake McQueeney,” said Steve Robinson, a partner at Allen Boone Humphries and Robinson, doing legal work for the Friends of Lake McQueeney and Citizens United for Lake Placid associations. “The whole purpose is to allow for Lake Placid Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 to be a participant in repairing and replacing the gate structure at Lake Placid.”
In December, Robinson helped Lake McQueeney residents gain approval for a Water Control and Improvement District from the Guadalupe County Commissioners Court. He did the same Tuesday for Lake Placid homeowners.
Commissioners Court approved establishment of Lake Placid Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 by a vote of 4-0; Precinct No. 2 Commissioner Drew Engelke was absent to attend a funeral.
Citizens United for Lake Placid requested the agenda item on their route to establishing the Water Control and Improvement District, which is needed to raise funding to replace spill gates at the dam that forms Lake Placid, Skonnord said.
“It’ll be a temporary district,” he said. “The goal is to go to the election in November, which then gets voted on by anyone who owns property in that district to either make it a permanent district or they can vote against it.”
Lake Placid is one of the endangered lakes in the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority’s Guadalupe Valley Lakes system. Spill gates have failed at two of the six lakes’ hydro-electric dams, draining waters from the areas.
Guadalupe Blanco River Authority personnel have said the aging dams are no longer sound or fit to continue safely doing their jobs. Repairing the dams is a bad option and replacing them will cost millions of dollars the authority just doesn’t have, GBRA officials have said.
So associations that have sprung up around the lakes are taking matters into their own hands and figuring out ways to fund work on the spill gates and dams. Some, including Skonnord and Ray Thomas, entered into lawsuits to try to force GBRA to repair the dams and maintain the lakes.
Skonnord, Thomas, Robin Dwyer, Randall Cox and Jay Hazelwood are on the temporary Water Control and Improvement District board. Thomas, who also is a trial lawyer, said Tuesday that he is of the opinion that sharing the costs with GBRA is the best route moving forward.
“I do know and have the ability to assess the risk of litigation, to predict the costs and legal fees of litigation and appeals, and to really evaluate the risks of both litigation and appeals,” he said.
It would be easier and less expensive to work with the river authority than to fight with it, Thomas said. In the end, a compromise would be in everyone’s best interests, he said.
“We bought these places here in Seguin because we were looking for a peaceful place to share with our children and grandchildren,” Thomas said. “I think the last thing this place needs is ... years of litigation. ... I believe we can accomplish much more working together than at the courthouse.”
Once the Lake Placid Water Control and Improvement District is formed, board members will work with GBRA for funding and more, Skonnord said.
“Obviously, GBRA is going to be a very healthy contributor to the costs,” he said. “We brought in a lot of attorneys, a lot of specialists. Ultimately what we determined was the money isn’t there for GBRA to fix the spill gates.”
The association’s first concern is to institute measures to come up with an option to fix the gates. That’s where the Water Control and Improvement District comes in. Standing around and waiting for GBRA to take the lead on the project or continuing to just complain would be fruitless, Skonnord said.
“It would be great if somehow there was all that money there but we’ve had so many people look at it and we just know we’re in a bad situation,” he said. “Unfortunately, even if GBRA was willing to 100% pay for it, they don’t have the money in the bank to do it, they don’t have the cash flow to do it.”
The authority is willing to be a big part of the solution, though, Skonnord said.
Now that the temporary Water Control and Improvement District is formed, members can do things such as negotiate contracts with architects and more. That will help in determining the final costs of the project to replace spill gates, fortify concrete at the dam and retrofit the dam to accommodate the new spill gates, Skonnord said.
Currently, those involve believe the project could cost between $25 million and $40 million, he said. Contractors will help to narrow down the range, which, in turn, will help board members figure how much of a tax impact the work will have on property owners.
They’d like those numbers before the November election, Skonnord said. The goal is to be able to tell people exactly on what they’re voting, he said.
Tuesday’s commissioners court vote, brought the group a step closer to its end game, Skonnord said.
“We’re just working hard to find some sort of solution,” he said.