Marble Falls, Burnet, Kingsland, Llano, Spicewood, Horseshoe Bay, and ALL of the Highland Lakes
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The Marble Falls City Council voted unanimously on July 3 to invoke eminent domain proceedings on roughly 2 acres of land on property owned the Fowler-Ronharr family for a utility easement. Staff photo by Nathan Bush
The Fowler-Ronhaar family, which owns over 800 acres of a historic ranch in Marble Falls, are speaking out after the Marble Falls City Council voted on July 3 to invoke eminent domain to force the sale of a 2-acre easement on the property.
The easement is necessary for construction of a wastewater treatment plant on adjacent land behind Walmart on U.S. 281, city officials said.
The property, known as the Shifflett Ranch by longtime residents, has been in the same family since 1852, when George H. Shifflett moved to Texas from Kentucky.
“They received two leagues of land (approximately 8,500 acres), and (we) have had family living in the same house ever since,” said family spokesman Billy Fowler. “The Shifflett Ranch is on the historical registry for 150 years of continuous ranching and is a part of Texas history.”
Along with fighting the eminent domain proceedings, Fowler and his family have requested a contested-case hearing from the Texas Commission on Environment Quality to protest the construction of the new wastewater treatment plant near their property.
“The plant would completely ruin any plans for development of our property,” Fowler said in an email to DailyTrib.com. “The smell and depreciation of land value from the adjoining property would be exponentially detrimental.”
Fowler said city land practices have led to the degradation of his family’s land. Adjacent city property is used to irrigate effluent water, which has flooded the Fowler-Ronhaar property, creating an environment conducive to a feral pig invasion, he said.
He also claimed a lack of communication from the city.
“The city has been absolutely awful neighbors to us for the last 30 years, and, for us, this is just the latest example of deception, malice, and ill will,” Fowler said.
In 2019, the TCEQ forced Marble Falls to begin planning a replacement for its wastewater treatment plant at 1100 Yett St. because it was operating at a threshold that triggered a TCEQ requirement for expansion.
In 1992, following a decision by the Lower Colorado River Authority that prohibited municipalities from dumping treated wastewater into the Colorado River, Marble Falls officials began irrigating the land on U.S. 281 with effluent. The city and the LCRA purchased about 400 acres of the middle section of the Fowler-Ronhaar ranch to dump the effluent.
“We were originally told there were federal guidelines that prevented any issues like over-irrigation, but in reality, that is just not the case,” Fowler said. “It has to go somewhere.”
The city’s current wastewater treatment plant has a pump capacity of 1.5 million gallons per day. The proposed plant will pump over 3 million gallons per day and have the capability to upgrade to 4.5 million gallons per day.
“We already have irreparable damage done to our property as a result (of over-irrigation) and simply cannot withstand anymore,” Fowler said. “Spring-fed creeks now run full of effluent. We have washed-out roads and creek banks as well as erosion to areas that now remain wet.”
Fowler blames the over-irrigation for an explosion of feral pigs on the property.
“The hundreds of acres of soggy-bottom fields from the city’s negligible over-irrigating has created a natural safe haven for the atrocious invasive species of hog that now populate our land by the hundreds,” he said. “They are decimating our natural wildlife and are wreaking havoc on all of our ranch.”
Marble Falls Mayor Dave Rhodes and City Manager Mike Hodge told DailyTrib.com they did not want to comment on the situation until they spoke to the landowners.
“Out of respect for the Fowler family, we would like to have a conversation with them first,” Hodge wrote in an emailed response to DailyTrib.com when asked to address allegations made by the family.
“We’ve done every possible thing to engage these folks to sit down and try to negotiate with them,” he said. “We’ve done the whole smash, and they’ve left us here.”
Fowler disputed that claim.
“The mayor has never even responded to any of our calls or emails to him,” he said.
The family’s ultimate goal is for the proposed plant to be built elsewhere and for the city to purchase additional acreage for irrigation purposes.
“We would like for the city to build their treatment plant somewhere else,” Fowler said. “Or, at least, move it away from our front door by moving the location as far north and east as possible, as well as maybe finding more land for irrigation to relieve the pressures of over-irrigation unto us. We just want to be left alone.”