Marble Falls, Burnet, Kingsland, Llano, Spicewood, Horseshoe Bay, and ALL of the Highland Lakes
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A photo of the dry side of the James River Dam shows the consequences of the dam’s impoundments. Photo courtesy of Lake Buchanan Communities Alliance
A Mason County landowner must restore the James River near his property to its original condition after a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department investigation uncovered an illegal dam that is impounding water. The James River flows into the Llano River, which provides a sizable amount of water to Lake LBJ and beyond.
The TPWD sent “cease-and-desist” and “notice of violation” orders to Bill Neusch on Sept. 21 informing him that he had violated Chapter 86 of the Parks and Wildlife Code by building a dam across a public waterway.
“(Neusch) did acknowledge receipt (of the orders),” TPWD attorney Bridgett Meyer told DailyTrib.com.
Chapter 86 regulates the disturbance of sand and gravel in public waterways across the state. Streams, creeks, and rivers 30 feet or wider are considered navigable waterways in Texas, and, as such, the public has rights to them, even if they are on private property. A landowner cannot build a dam or impede a public waterway without obtaining proper permitting from regulatory agencies like the TPWD and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“TPWD has determined that you unlawfully disturbed the bed and banks of the James River,” a letter to Neusch reads. “In order to resolve these violations, TPWD requests that, within 14 days of receiving this letter (sent on Sept. 21), you acknowledge receipt and initiate coordination with the department on a restoration plan for TPWD’s review and approval.”
Neusch’s dam impounds an unknown quantity of water in a sizable private lake on his property. The restoration plan includes removing all constructed material in the James River, fixing any impoundments that developed as a result of the dam, and replanting the banks of the river with native seed.
Neusch could face civil penalties of $100 to $10,000 per day of violation if he fails to comply with the TPWD’s orders.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the TCEQ, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are currently coordinating with Neusch on the next steps, Meyer said, adding that the TPWD’s cease-and-desist order left little room for interpretation.
Neusch is the founder and president of Gibraltar, a manufacturing and fabrication firm with facilities in Burnet and Marble Falls that is responsible for designing and constructing about 150 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
This is the second time in recent months that a private dam has raised concerns about negative effects on water in the Highland Lakes. The Waterstone Creek dam, which could be built across the South Llano River, has received major public opposition since it was proposed in the spring of 2022.
The James River begins in Kimble County and flows into Mason County, where it merges with the Llano River, which, in turn, merges with the Colorado River at Lake LBJ. The Llano and Colorado rivers are major water sources for residents in Llano, Burnet, and Travis counties, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Hydromet.
The LBCA has been following the controversies caused by the Waterstone Creek and James River dams, but Shipley made a distinction between the two. He called the James River Dam a “pirate dam” because Neusch did not apply for permits, he just built it.
The LBCA, Save Lake LBJ, Central Texas Water Coalition, and several local governments are currently battling the permit application submitted by Gregory C. Garland for his proposed dam across the South Llano River.
“These dams are a serious thing,” Shipley said. “But they’re just playthings for the rich.”