On Tuesday, the San Marcos City Council held a discussion regarding the status of Capes Dam and possible partnership opportunities with Hays County and the Hays County Historical Commission.
The discussion opened with a presentation from Interim Director of Community Services, Drew Wells, providing the council with an update on conversations with the county and Historical Commission.
In 2014, the City of San Marcos received 20 acres of dedicated parkland along the San Marcos River, which included Capes Dam and the Mill Race.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board requested a study of safety and environmental issues associated with the Dam to be performed in October of 2014.
Upon completion, the scientific evaluation recommended the removal of Capes Dam and the filling of the Mill Race.
On March 15, 2016, the City Council approved a motion to remove Capes Dam; a stakeholder meeting was held at the Fish Hatchery on June 21, 2016, which included representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Historical Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hays County Historical Commission and the City of San Marcos.
According to Wells, the USFWS stated that leaving the dam in place, in whole or in part, would make the city ineligible for USFWS funding for the project.
Council received a presentation from USFWS regarding the Capes Dam removal planning and permitting process on August 16, 2016.
USFWS’s report stated that the dam “acts as a barrier to fish and other aquatic species” and “is in severe disrepair and poses a safety hazard to recreational users.”
Wells said due to the conflicting position of USFWS and the Texas Historical Commission and the competing interests of other stakeholders, the city of San Marcos determined the best course of action was to suspend the USFWS permit process and further investigate removal, repair and replacement options.
In January 2019, the council directed staff to begin discussions with the county about potential partnership opportunities regarding Capes’ Dam.
The city of San Marcos requested a proposal from the county and the historical commission that would do the following:
- Transfer responsibility for operation and maintenance of the dam and mill race structures and surrounding areas of City-owned parkland under agreement with the city.
- Hays County Historical Commission has stated their intent to secure funding for restoration of the dam structure and ongoing operations and maintenance.
- County would work with the city on the scope and design of the proposed project.
- A conceptual plan of the county vision for Capes Dam and the Mill Race.
Wells said the county has also proposed transferring ownership of the Five Mile Dam Soccer Complex, Randy Vetter Park and Dudley Johnson Park to the city.
Currently, the city of San Marcos operates and maintains the Five Mile Dam Soccer Complex under an expired agreement with Hays County. The county owns and maintains the other parks itself.
On June 4, the Hays County Commissioners Court approved a professional services agreement to design a conceptual master plan of Capes Dam.
Discussions with the county regarding the conceptual plan includes access points for park users to enter the river, proposed parking areas, picnic tables and recreation areas, trails along Thompson’s Island and Stokes Park with Interpretive signs about history and environment, safety of park users and emergency access, park rules and enforcement and neighboring developments and conflicts with access or alcohol.
Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Prewitt said she wanted to clarify when the council voted to remove the damn in 2014, filling in the mill race had not been part of the vote.
“We said we wanted to talk about it,” Prewitt said. “We wanted to have the dam removed but the mill race had not been a topic of discussion. And then we said we wanted to bring it back for a topic of discussion. As a matter of fact, we went as far as having another consultation with Tom Hardy and having him do another study on the mill race whether we could bring the mill race down and maintain water in it.”
Prewitt said the council never received the study; she also noted that the timeline did not mention the additional damage caused by the 2015 floods.
Council member Mark Rockeymoore asked staff what some of the benefits would be for handing over the Capes Dam project to the county.
Wells said one of the benefits would be the financial benefit; Hays County and the Hays County Historical Commission have indicated a desire to restore the structure and fund at least a portion of the restoration.
“We haven’t gotten down to that detail of the discussion because we’re just not there yet,” Wells said, “To understand how much they would fund and what our participation would be. It would not only be the funding for the restoration but also the ongoing operation and maintenance.”
Council Member Melissa Derrick asked for clarification from staff that the partnership with the county would be an interlocal agreement versus a land swap.
Prewitt said she wanted to know all the reasons why it is environmentally better for the San Marcos River to rebuild the dam, and she wanted to understand the safety; the information would help her make a decision regarding the project.
“My husband goes to Rio Vista every weekend,” Prewitt said. “And he watches near drownings at least two to three times a day, and he helps take people out of the river. I want to find out if the people who want to rebuild this dam have been to these areas that are more secluded and understand the difficulty of pulling people out of the river when they don’t know how to swim.”
Prewitt went on to say she wanted to know how emergency services would gain access to the area to provide treatment to people in the area.
Council member Ed Mihalkanin said he didn’t want to exclude the residents of San Marcos from the river in the name of nature; he thinks one of the reasons why the mill race is the way it is today, “stagnant and disgusting,” is because of the damage to the dam.
“If you go to the end of the mill race, closest to the San Marcos River, that part of it is made from nature,” Mihalkanin said. “There was erosion there decades ago, a hundred years ago, probably because that’s where the river curves…I think we can be creative. I think we can get more information. I want this to be a process that everybody can accept.”
Mark Kennedy, General Counsel for Hays County, said while the proposal and discussions are in the early stages of the process, the county will gather input from the environmental community on the project.
Council Member Melissa Derrick noted that the issue of Capes Dam has divided the community.
Kate Johnson with the Hays County Historical Commission said the commission is looking into a committee to address all of the concerns of the city council.
“Our primary focus is to make sure that you all are agreeable to this conceptual plan, and that’s all it is, a conceptual plan,” Johnson said. “It is up to you all to decide. We’ll bring you the information. We’ll bring you what we think is best, and we’ll be talking to all of you in this process.”
Council directed staff to continue the discussions with the county and Hays County Historical Commission regarding a conceptual plan for Capes Dam.