Gonzales City Council tackled the topic of river drownings as the main talking point at the Thursday, Aug. 12 meeting.
Gonzales residents and local experts spoke to the council about the need for solutions to prevent drownings in the Guadalupe River near Independence Park, a known danger area along the river.
Residents Bill Shepard and Thomas Enriquez, along with members of Texas Parks and Wildlife, were some of the individuals addressing regarding solutions for increased river safety.
“It is my suggestion that a temporary committee be formed to draw all of these opinions into something that's reasonable for everybody,” Shepard said.
John Botros, river access coordinator of Texas Parks and Wildlife, discussed the recommended paths regarding river access to the Guadalupe River.
“I understand there are safety issues since the [hydro] plant got re-licensed. I think a lot of the safety around the plant has been of concern,” Botros said.
From the podium, Enriquez further suggested from the podium possible river clean up efforts. The council was provided pictures of concrete debris and re-bar sticking up from the river bed.
Enriquez continued by stating that local residents relayed to him debris har been dumped in that location roughly a decade ago when people performed work on the dam.
“I know people may want to cut off access to the river and location. But in my opinion, I believe we should find a way to clean it up and make it safe,” Enriquez said.
Enriquez spoke to the executive manager of operations for the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, David Harris, who told him GBRA has no authority over the river, suggesting to Enriquez assembling a group of volunteers to clean that part of the river.
“I think we should take precautions and put up signs that say risk of drowning. I also think it would be beneficial to rezone that area as an exclusive fishing, canoeing and kayaking zone, in order to prevent future drownings to keep access to that portion of the river open,” Enriquez said.
Dale Schellenberg mentioned concerns about liberties being “taken away from the public in the name of safety.”
“Understand that safety is a number one concern. Common sense by the public, or the lack thereof, sometimes controls safety issues, so there's not a person in this room that does not know that the river is dangerous,” Schellenberg said.
The Texas Water Safari was also mentioned by Schellenberg, who noted paddlers practice all year long on the river, but current inaccessibility has prevented navigating the Guadalupe.
Schellenberg mentioned the Texas Water Code, which states that “No person may obstruct the navigation of any stream which can be navigated by steamboats, keel boats, or flatboats by cutting and felling trees or by building on or across the stream any dike, milldam, bridge, or other obstruction.”
As of right now, river access near the dam is blocked off and the only access to the Guadalupe River is under the US 183 (Water Street) bridge.
“We're blessed with things that not everyone are. I'm gonna recommend that you open that gate back up … I think that people really need some recreation, and that river is really a treasure for Gonzales,” Schellenberg said.
Gonzales residents Enriquez and Schellenberg agreed with Eddie Halamicek, stating the river is all the city has for fishing and recreational use.
“A lot of people don’t have private properties or long pond fishing areas. They don’t have a vehicle. Access is relatively restricted as is. I don’t feel closing this access would be adequate for all the citizens and taxpayers,” Halamicek said.
In other business, the council approved the following line items:
• approved setting a Thursday, Sept. 1, public hearing regarding the 2022-2023 tax rate; which is projected to be lower than last year’s tax rate.
• approved tabling the appointment of the Planning and Zoning Commission until the full council is present at the next city council meeting.
• approved amending the bylaws of GEDC, a Type B economic development corporation.
• approved authorizing the city manager to execute a publicity and tourism agreement with the Chamber of Commerce for the hosting and operations of Gonzales Chamber of Commerce.