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Uncertain future for Cape’s Dam

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File photo of Cape's Dam

City Council’s decision to designate Cape’s Dam as a historic landmark or remove it altogether is still in limbo, months after the proposal to designate it as a historic landmark.

On Jan. 29, City Council postponed the decision to designate Cape’s Dam as a historic landmark. City staff is doing their research to decide on a vote within six months.

Some residents and organizations want the dam to be removed while others want to have it preserved as a historic landmark. City Council had previously planned to remove the dam. However, on Oct. 4, 2018, the Historic Preservation Committee proposed to designate it as a historic landmark and maintain the structure.

Councilmember Ed Mihalkanin said the dam should stay and be designated as a historic landmark.

“There are multiple reasons why I think we should repair the dam. It is historic and a part of the early history of San Marcos, and it’s really an example of early industry and helped make San Marcos in its early years,” Mihalkanin said. “A second reason is the dam was given to the city government with the understanding of maintaining it.”

The San Marcos River Foundation has also weighed in on the topic of Cape’s Dam by speaking at council meetings and being engaged with the San Marcos River. Executive Director of San Marcos River Foundation Diane Wassenich said the dam should be removed.

“From the beginning, the foundation has said over and over again that the science proves that it needs to be removed because it’s harmful to the river,” said Wassenich. “The river and the endangered species, as well as the native fish, will be better served by removing the dam.”

Wassenich also said future costs of maintaining the dam will be costly and outweigh the benefits of preserving it.

“We believe that it will be very expensive to remove the dam and then rebuild it like the people who want to keep the dam would have to do,” said Wassenich. “You would then have to maintain that dam which would constantly be broken down by flood, so it would cost more and more over the years and it would be causing harm to the river.”

The 150-year-old dam was damaged by previous floods and has been deemed unsafe by the city, which has spurred the controversy. Parks operation manager Bert Stratemann said the city needs to make a decision regarding the dam.

“I know that something needs to be done because it’s unsafe how it is right now,” said Stratemann. “There’s probably 50 percent of the community that wants it removed and 50 percent that want it to stay.”

San Marcos resident Kelly Stone said she believes the dam should be removed because of the unnatural and environmental aspects.

“It creates a mill race that’s stagnant, that has a higher bacterial count that lowers the ability for wildlife to go upstream and downstream,” said Stone. “The efforts being made right now in adding that historical designation is to add more red tape, which will make it more difficult toward the removal.”

Stone also said the Historic Preservation Committee isn’t looking at the full history of the dam.

“I think that they’re looking at history in a very short sided way. The river itself has flown for thousands of years, and so in terms of true historic preservation removal would actually be restoring the river correctly.”

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