GILMER – Stakeholders for Lake Gilmer came away from a community meeting Thursday with renewed hope that they might find solutions for a $25 million investment turned headache.
“I thought it was a big, positive step in the right direction,” Upshur County Judge Todd Tefteller said of the Lake Gilmer: Challenges and Opportunities meeting called by state Rep. Jay Dean.
The conversation between local and environmental leaders Thursday at Harmony ISD brought forth ideas that the city of Gilmer — which owns the lake — might work with homeowners, the county, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to navigate around permits that effectively block homeowners from using the shoreline and the city, county and local schools from seeing water, tax revenue and other benefits usually found at other East Texas reservoirs.
“I think there’s a lot that can be done that will be a positive force for the use of our lake,” Tefteller said, “and the development of our resources without any expense to natural habitat whatsoever.”
Having reps with the Army Corps and Texas Parks and Wildlife on hand helped local leaders understand what’s in the lake’s permits that impose regulations such as not allowing any boathouses, docks or piers 7 feet above the shoreline.
“It seems like to me it shouldn’t take a lot of modification to make this lake more usable for the citizens of Upshur County,” said Dean, R-Longview.
The most prominent idea that arose Tuesday was creating a governing board of Lake Gilmer stakeholders that can negotiate new or altered regulations within the permits, which are regulated by the Corps and governed by TPWD.
The regulations resulted from planning before the lake’s construction in 1993. Many of the permit guidelines were formed by a former city manager at that time, said retired Gilmer businessman Steve Dean.
At that time, Dean, who is not related to the state representative, led Gilmer Economic Development Corp., which is still paying back the loan for the lake’s construction at a rate of 85% of its annual total revenue.
“This was his first job out of college,” Dean said of the former city manager. ”He was given 100% sole responsibility to negotiate this permit with the Corps... He didn’t have a clue what anybody in the county wanted — none.”
Steve Dean was responding to an earlier statement from Stephen Lange, Texas Parks and Wildlife regional director, who mentioned that Lake Bois D’Arc — a reservoir under construction in Fannin County — would allow shoreline development because those stakeholders agreed to mitigate other land and property.
Much of Lake Gilmer’s 1,525 acres of mitigated land is its shoreline.
“Bois D’Arc had people from the Metroplex that were going to receive this water, and they were paying for the lake,” Steve Dean said. “They sat down with wiser heads and said, ‘Here’s what we need to do.’ That didn’t happen here. No wiser heads were invited to the meeting, so we have this permit.”
The state representative said it is time to look to the future rather than the past.
“I like the idea of having a lake board, because as you heard Steve Dean say, the guy who negotiated the whole permit was a first-year person,” Jay Dean said. “You get a good board of stakeholders that can help with asking the questions and getting the right info, this would make it a good deal.”
Gilmer Mayor Tim Marshall called it a constructive meeting.
“A lot of this dispels a lot of the myths that we’ve heard in the past,” Marshall said, “and it gives us more of a concrete base to work from as opposed to just rumors that everybody says, ‘Well, this,’ and, ‘Well, that.’ This gives us more information to go on.”