A portion of the fight appears to be nearing an end for the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority in its legal battle against property owners along the hydro-electric lakes with failing dams in the area.
Litigants came to a settlement agreement in the civil case property owners brought against the authority in hopes of stopping GBRA from draining the well-liked lakes and allowing the dams that create them to fail, GBRA General Manager and CEO Kevin Patteson said in a news release.
“This settlement agreement is a testament to the results we can achieve when we all work together toward a common goal,” he said. “We appreciate the partnership, dialogue, and collaboration of the residents and lake associations throughout the process.”
The agreement includes people who own property on Lake Placid and Lake McQueeney represented by San Antonio attorney Ricardo Cedillo in the case of Skonnord v. GBRA. Cedillo brought suit against GBRA on behalf of 10 plaintiffs who live along McQueeney and Placid.
GBRA still faces a similar lawsuit filed by upwards of 300 plaintiffs living along some of the other four lakes in the system. Those property owners are represented by local attorney Douglas Sutter in the suit Jimmy and Cheryl Williams et al. v. Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and its officers and directors.
Sutter and his clients have not settled, and the plaintiffs in the Skonnord case didn’t get much for their efforts, he said.
“The 10 Skonnord plaintiffs received no additional consideration from GBRA and GBRA did not agree to do anything but to own and operate the new dam(s) to be paid 100% by the lake-front taxpayers for construction, operation and maintenance costs — that was a tough deal to negotiate,” he wrote Thursday morning in an email. “Our mediation with GBRA went nowhere.”
Cedillo contradicted Sutter’s claim saying GBRA will commit to $1.2 million in engineering studies at Lake McQueeney and Lake Placid, and 100% of hydroelectricity revenue from the revitalized dams will go to help maintain them.
The settlement clears the way for residents to secure a long-term future for the lakes, the attorney said.
“Importantly, the parties agreed that the spill gates and water levels on Lake McQueeney shall be maintained at specifically defined normal operating water levels from the date of this settlement until repair and replacement construction begins — at which time water levels will need to be adjusted for construction needs,” Cedillo’s statement read. “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 Nov. 3rd ballot.”
Because of the agreement, residents have a chance to control their own destiny, secure the lakes for decades to come, and protect property values, jobs, the economy and the community, Cedillo wrote.
The settlement agreement anticipates recently created Water Control and Improvement Districts on Lake Placid and Lake McQueeney to enter into contracts with the river authority to help pay for the aging dams’ rehabilitation and the replacement of spill gates that have failed or are destined to fail, the GBRA release read.
“Per the settlement agreement, GBRA will continue maintaining the current operating levels on each lake until work begins on the spill gate replacement and repairs on that lake’s dam,” it stated.
Friends of Lake McQueeney on July 24 posted on its website an announcement about the settlement. The information states that nothing in the settlement prevents the Lake McQueeney or Lake Placid WCIDs from seeking court action to stop GBRA from draining or lowering the lakes if the authority doesn’t meet the terms of the settlement.
GBRA agreed not to decommission the dams unless voters fail to confirm creation of the WCIDs or voters fail to approve bond or market financing, the Friends of Lake McQueeney statement read.
The river authority, and WCIDs for Lake McQueeney and Lake Placid are negotiating terms of financing agreements, it read. They are expected to have firm agreements in place by the Nov. 3, 2020, election, according to the FOLM statement.
Along with Lake McQueeney and Lake Placid, Lake Dunlap has formed a WCID. All three are expected to be on the November general election ballot for approval.
Each WCID hopes to have a ballot option for property owners to decide whether to fund the work proposed on their respective dams. Lake Dunlap’s WCID and a political action committee set up to fight for the dam recently announced figures they believe represent tax payers’ obligations to repair the dam that creates Lake Dunlap and replace its spill gates.
The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority has applied for 0% and low-interest loans from the Texas Water Development Board for work at the three dams. GBRA is expected to issue bonds with property owners on each lake paying debt service through tax revenues, Patteson’s statement read.
“GBRA will commit revenues from the sale of hydroelectric power at each lake to the WCID on that lake going forward,” the statement read. “These revenues will be available to the WCIDs for debt service, operation and maintenance costs and other lawful purposes.
“Once the spill gate replacement and other necessary repairs are complete, GBRA will continue to perform the operations and maintenance of the dams.”