SEGUIN, Texas – Sitting next to a podium as residents warned of the havoc that draining four Guadalupe Valley lakes would wreak on their lives, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority CEO and General Manager Kevin Patteson heard nothing to change his mind.
"It's terrible, but at the end of the day, no matter what we do, it doesn't change the fact that we have one of these gates that could collapse and hurt somebody," Patteson told reporters.
Patteson said it was his decision to begin draining Lake Gonzales, Meadow Lake, Lake Placid and Lake McQueeney, starting Sep. 16 due to safety concerns over their aging dams. The announcement last week sent a shock wave through the communities around the lakes, and frustrated residents packed into the GBRA boardroom Wednesday morning in Seguin for the first board meeting since the news broke.
"You're going to kill my business, kill my property value, and I'm not going to be able to support my family," Chris Nelligan-Davis, a Lake Placid resident and the owner of Red Beard Boats, told the board.
If drained, there's no time frame for when, or if, the lakes would be refilled due to lingering questions on how to fund the estimated $180 million in needed repairs. The uncertainty added another level of frustration for residents.
"Everything I love, care for, worked so hard to get to in my life is over if you take this away without a plan to fix it," said Thomas Belton, who co-owns a water skiing school on Lake McQueeney where he also lives.
The six hydroelectric dams owned by GBRA were all completed between 1928 and 1932. Two dams at Lake Dunlap and Lake Wood have already had spillgate failures that have emptied the lakes, and the GBRA said it believes the remaining four dams are unsafe.
However, not everyone believes the danger is as bad as GBRA has presented.
Members of the group, Save Our Lakes Coalition, told the media ahead of the meeting that they want the GBRA to hold off from draining the lakes until ongoing economic impact and engineering studies can be reviewed.
"We think that the simple truth is GBRA wants out of the business of managing these dams and that they saw an opportunity to use, frankly, hyperbole and scare tactics, to speed up their exit without any regard to the impact to the communities that they're supposed to serve," said coalition volunteer Tess Coody-Anders.
But Patteson said the GBRA wants to be "part of the solution" in putting the lakes back and still plans to push forward with the drainage because of safety concerns.
GBRA staff presented photos during the meeting of people getting near, and even on top of some of its dams. While some at the meeting questioned whether there were better ways to keep people away, Patteson said they have tried.
"We do call law enforcement, and they do run folks off," he said. "But in the event that law enforcement isn't quick enough, or they ignore warning signs or our sirens and still stay there, we still have that danger."
Although the decision to drain the lakes has already been made, Patteson said he would take any comments or considerations from the board seriously.
"And they have the option to bring it back in a different way. And they have the option to reverse my decision, ultimately," Patteson said.