Battle lines drawn over future of Cape’s Dam

Guest Column

The banks of Thompson’s Island are quiet now as the San Marcos river flows placidly by, but a recent shot off the bow sends two opposing groups into preparation for the Battle of Capes (sic) Dam. Stuck in the middle is the San Marcos City council who recently voted to remove Capes Dam. The coup de main came in the form of a newsletter to members from the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF), which was largely innocuous until it turned to the issue of Capes Dam. The Foundation expressed disappointment with the Heritage Association of San Marcos (HASM) for expressing the Heritage’s support of saving the dam to council in an open letter on Sept. 27, 2017. In their letter to council, 42 year-old organization HASM, stated,

“San Marcos would not have been settled or flourished without the San Marcos River... The Thompson-Capes Dam, constructed in 1867, is one of the oldest existing structures in the San Marcos area and the oldest surviving dam on the river today. Its historical significance cannot be downplayed.”

SMRF continued to suggest that HASM’s logic behind saving the dam was flawed because HASM had only met with a group from one side of the controversy. The opposition, preparing to raise the colors is Save the SMTX River comprised of community members who appreciate the beauty, history, endangered species and recreational benefits that the dam provides. Unfortunately, the recent floods have left Cape’s Dam badly damaged and potentially hazardous so prompt action must be taken either restore or remove the dam. Capes Dam was originally built to extend a natural slough to enter a bluff, which became the mill race that provided the force to aid a saw mill and cotton gin. These are the very elements of industry that helped build the San Marcos community and economy. The circuit creates Thompson’s Islands and is complete when it rejoins the river; it measures just over a third of a mile. Over the last century it has become a popular destination for swimmers, kayakers, scout troops, wounded veterans and people with disabilities. The reason is the gentle current and full circuit makes the river accessible to people who would otherwise require handicapped access. It is a destination for therapy and recreation for veterans who have suffered mobility loss in combat. Moreover, the environmental impact of removing the dam is disputed by both sides, each has presented differing scientific opinions regarding the effect of the dam’s removal. This span of river falls within a federally designated critical habitat meaning a battery of licenses and permits must be obtained to legally remove the historic structure. Questions to council raised by Save the SMTX River went unanswered when the organization says it discovered through a Texas Parks and Wildlife open record request that at least one application permit was changed after it was notarized and submitted to the state permitting officials, suggesting that the San Marcos city government was somehow coordinating with state officials to speed up demolition. The changes to these documents also drastically minimized the public notification requirements. In an election year, the last thing any candidate wants to do is to make stump speeches from a powder keg, but the incumbent candidates survived unscathed by the issue. Both re-elected candidates have openly expressed support for saving the dam but many in the community worry that their resolve for saving the dam will wane due to political pressure. In this battle of buccaneers and privateers the more powerful organization is the San Marcos River Foundation. SMRF is well-funded by member contributions, current land wealth and has the ear of the city. Considering many SMRF members have contributed to the current council members, they could be hesitant to offend those that aided their campaigns; however, hope to thwart the scuttling of Capes Dam is not lost, not while a dedicated and growing group of community members stand fast upon the banks of the San Marcos River and fight to preserve and restore it for future generations. To see documentation and learn more please go to: www.savethesmtxriver.org.

Christie Maycock is a resident of San Marcos

San Marcos Daily Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666