Capes Dam controversy rises

Capes Dam controversy rises

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Photo by: Pablo Mejia | Staff Photographer
Gennaro family from Cibolo, TX enjoying the San Marcos River April 8 at Cape's Dam

The removal of Capes Dam has produced much controversy throughout the city of San Marcos as some residents press questions as to whether the science conducted for the removal is misleading the community.

In 2014, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board recommended the city-owned dam be studied for environmental and recreational issues.

In March 2014, the city of San Marcos asked Thom Hardy, chief science officer at The Meadows Center, to conduct an assessment of rebuilding the dam. The city met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Hardy to determine what kind of analysis would be conducted, along with what information was needed.

“In that meeting, I made it clear to the city that if we were to do this study, I will do bed evolution because it wasn’t accounted for in previous studies, and I wanted to include an assessment directly including recreation,” Hardy said.

After acquiring data from previous years of studying Capes Dam, Hardy said he was already familiar with the model. He then signed a contract with the city in December 2014, for the evaluation of Capes Dam at a price of $10,000.

“I am a citizen. I don’t need (the city) to pay premium prices,” Hardy said.

Hardy worked vigorously to complete this study and provided updates on the dam throughout the year.

By June 2015, Hardy updated his report which included the effects on Texas Wild Rice and fountain darters.

In October 2015, Hardy released another update of his report and presented it to city council at a workshop.

“(Council) asked my opinion from an ecological perspective on what would I do, and I said take the dam out,” Hardy said.

By February 2016, the Parks and Recreation Board informed city council that U.S. Fish and Wildlife would fully fund the removal.

The city then voted on March 15, 2016, to remove the dam, and it passed with a 6-1 vote. Council Member Jude Prather was the only one who opposed.

Many residents were against the council’s decision, and a petition soon began to stop the removal process.

In July 2016, the Texas Historical Commission sent a letter to Mike Montagne, project leader for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explaining that the dam was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The city met at the Capes Dam site with the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state level of Historical Commission to talk it through. Hardy said he was told by the city that it was agreed: there was so much original structure left of the dam.

“It was the fact that it is eligible for the historical register, but it was not actually on the historical register. Why? Because when it was up for consideration, then the owners of the dam said ‘we do not want this on the historical register’—that was their decision, so it wasn’t on the historical register. It was only eligible. Big difference, technically,” Hardy said.

In August 2016, there was an update on the removal permitting process at the city council meeting. The dam is still in the process of receiving the official permits for removal.

“Permits were expected to go really fast, but it takes awhile. It has nothing to do with the controversy. It is just the systematic time. You can’t make the engineer group go faster than what they are going to go. They have other projects to work (on) also,” Hardy said.

Kelley Smoot Garrett, University of Texas alumna with a bachelor’s degree in geology, raised many concerns about Hardy’s research. She said there are significant omissions and errors within his report.

“From a science perspective, it’s an inappropriate diagram of a study area,” Smoot Garrett said. “The worst part about this whole aerial photograph is that it’s out of date, because it omits the 24-acre apartment complex, the Woods of San Marcos, that has been built there.”

Hardy said he chose an outdated picture so the grid can be seen easier, but it did not interfere with the removal of the dam.

Smoot Garrett participates in water activities in that area like SUP yoga on the San Marcos River, and said the removal would limit similar activities.

“We won’t be able to do that once Capes Dam is removed, because it will reduce the river down to a rocky trickle in the middle that is rapidly sending all the water downstream,” Smoot Garret said.

She said a multitude of people should be on board when it comes to environmental issues.

“It has to be opened up to multiple institutions, multiple different people, multiple different interests of study—not just biology, not just aquatic. It has to do with geology and hydrology and all these different subjects, and it can’t just focus on maybe one or two species. It has to look at the whole historical record. So anytime you look at research, you want to look at all conditions, not just a limited range,” Smoot Garrett said.

Hardy said he is certain of his studies and continues to believe the removal is the best decision for the city.

“I am absolutely confident in my science. I have complete confidence in my team, in what we are doing, what it means and the ecology of the river,” Hardy said.

Hardy is currently working on an extended update that implements more clarification for the benefits of the removal.

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