Frustrations Run High As Capes Dam Returns For Discussion Ahead Of Study

Staff Reports

Frustrations were high on Thursday as the San Marcos City Council held another discussion on Capes Dam. 

Councilmembers Ed Mihalkanin and Saul Gonzales said they placed the item on the agenda with the intention of addressing the safety hazard caused by the structure, which is in severe disrepair.

In January 2020, City Council received a briefing during their regular work session regarding the possible permitting process required if the direction of the council was to remove, rehabilitate or rebuild the Capes Dam.

There was a consensus by the council that a number of questions needed to be answered before they could make an educated decision on the matter.

Staff was directed to conduct further studies and provide a number of items to be addressed.

Councilmember Maxfield Baker said he wasn’t certain why the council was discussing the dam when the studies council had requested had not yet been started. 

“Part of what we were asking for in the scope was to finally get passed the misinformation that we’ve seen about the science,” Baker said. “That’s what this whole contingent is about is someone has misguided us, large portions of the community, to question the science that we’re basing our decision off of.”

According to City Manager Bert Lumbreras, staff began preparing a work session item to establish the scope of the Request For Proposal (RFP) the council wanted.

“When we did the last work session presentation, there was a lot of discussion around a lot of different studies,” Lumbreras said, “Everything from sedimentation to water levels impacts to other aspects of the area.”

However, Lumbreras said the staff advised the council that the project had been placed on hold temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At that time, we were looking at any and all funding sources,” Lumbreras said. “Since then, we’ve determined that it is not a funding source that we can take in. Staff is not intentionally holding back on following the council direction.”

In a budget workshop, staff reported a projected $6.4 million shortfall in revenue due to the COVID-19 economic shutdown; in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, sales tax represents 44.4 percent of the total general fund revenue.

While Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar postponed the implementation of changes to the Texas Sales Tax code, sales tax revenue experienced a drop due to COVID-19 related closures.

For June 2020, the city of San Marcos received 50.99% more in Sales Tax compared to June 2019.

San Marcos also saw $3,741,141.91 in Sales Tax revenue in May 2020 compared to last year’s $3,038,206.83.

During the discussion, Baker accused members of the council of breaking the open meetings act and meeting with individuals with an organization or group lobbying for the dam’s repair.

Mihalkanin said no group has approached him regarding the issue, but he has spoken with a number of people who support repairing the dam.

“I am not going to tell any citizen of San Marcos not to talk to me,” Mihalkanin said. “I really don’t appreciate you questioning mine or any of my colleagues’ motives on who we talk to.”

Mihalkanin said he wasn’t elected to police people on their political opinions, and he didn’t ask the people in favor or against repairing the dam how many others they had spoken to.

According to Mihalkanin, he was not on the council when they voted to remove the dam in early 2016; however, during his campaign for the November 2016 election and 2017 election, he had openly said he supported repairing the dam. 

Baker dropped the subject and returned to his other concerns.

Baker said he believes the science the council has already is reliable, but without the additional studies they requested, he didn’t see a reason to discuss making a decision.

“I find it interesting that a lot of my colleagues who voted to remove the dam have after a period of time begun to question the science that they used in the initial decision,” Baker said. “And now when we are presented with an opportunity to clarify that science, they are choosing to instead rush the project. What seems incredibly unsafe is that throughout this time, as we’ve twiddling our thumbs throughout this project…people are continuing to struggle and deal with this issue and face risks.”

Gonzales said he had hoped to have some answers on the studies, but his primary concern was someone getting hurt at the dam.

“This thing has been prolonged long enough,” Gonzales said. “I think we need to make a decision. My concern is humans’ lives.” 

Several council members agreed Capes Dam poses a significant safety hazard.

Councilmember Melissa Derrick said she had hoped a second opinion would help put everyone’s mind at ease after all the controversy that has surrounded the issue.

“I understand it is a safety hazard, and in my opinion, getting a permit to remove the dam is going to go much quicker,” Derrick said. “I trust in the science. We can definitely have a beautiful park there without rebuilding the dam.”

A majority of the council directed staff to bring a work session item back to the council to address the scope of the study council originally requested. 

“The status quo of a decaying dam is not healthy for our community,” Mihalkanin said. “To me, this is a public policy issue, and as the council doesn’t decide, the dam is continuing to deteriorate.”

Derrick and Councilmember Jocabed Marquez agreed that the issue of Capes Dam has been exhausting and physically and emotional draining for themselves as well as the community.

“We gave the direction that we wanted the study before we would make a decision on tearing out the dam or rebuilding it,” Derrick said. “And I think we need to stick with our original direction and get the study.”

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