Congressman Smith visits Horseshoe Falls

Thanks county officials for their help in clean-up efforts


By Richard Zowie

Times Guardian Staff Writer


Under a warm sky on May 25, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX 21st) walked along the rocky bank of Horseshoe Falls right along the Guadalupe River to check out the clean-up progress going on at the place ravaged by the Flood of 2002. While the area is now mostly clear, bulldozers remain to level out the rocky surface and clear it of the larger rocks and boulders that remain.

What a difference two years make.

Two years ago, the Horseshoe Falls development braced for the worst as the rains of Flood 2002 raged. As the level of Canyon Lake rose, water flowed into an emergency spillway channel.

What residents in the Horseshoe Falls area didn't know was that the spillway was actually aimed right at them. As the spillway filled, a gorge along the Guadalupe River near HF gave away, sending tons of rocks and other debris into the river and up onto the HF side of the bank.

"If you look at the area from an aerial view, you can see [the spillway] was aimed at this subdivision like a rifle barrel," explained O'Lene Stone, district director for Smith's San Antonio office. "When it fired, it was like a cannon. All of the rock, boulders and dirt came washing out. It's amazing that such violence could come out of such a beautiful lake."

The raging floodwaters and debris caused significant damage in the area, flooding houses and destroying what had been a community park for the homeowners in Horseshoe Falls. Originally, the bank had been a "green veldt of grass before the flood," said Comal County Precinct No. 4 Commissioner Jan Kennady (who, along with County Judge Danny Scheel, joined Smith to view the area).

The bank has been cleaned out, and the county plans to restore it to pre-flood conditions. Cost for cleaning the debris out of the river and the development was about $400,000, with the federal government paying 75 percent of the cost and Comal County picking up the other 25 percent.

"When I was here in July 2002 and saw both from the ground and from helicopters the complete devastation of the area and the damage done by thousands of tons of debris, I said at that point we're going to do something," said Smith. "At the time, I said that I honestly didn't know how we were going to get it done. I knew FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] was going to be a big help. I didn't know if they would be responsive; our initial inquiries were 'That's up to the local government. They'll have to pay for the cleanup.'"

Along with FEMA head Joe Albaugh, former U.S. Texas senator Phil Gramm, current senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX 23rd) and Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX 20th), Smith met with residents after the flood and assessed the damage.

"It took us several months to get the attention of the federal government and convince them it was their responsibility. I was very gratified we were able to get the federal government to pick up three-quarters of the cost. At the end they came through for us."

Save for the bulldozers, the bank of HF is clear and the river is once again flowing without obstructions. Smith also credited local officials and longtime colleagues, such as Judge Scheel and Kennady, for their assistance in getting the cleanup done.

"That's where friendships count," the congressman said. "It's been a very good working relationship. We all were facing the same direction trying to achieve the same goals and working very well together. Everybody picks up the phone and calls someone else when there's a need. You can't ask for a better example of local and federal governments working together than the clearing of debris out of the river and off the shore. And all is well. Hopefully this will never happen again."

The county officials thanked Smith and Stone for their help.

"When there is a disaster, we really do know where to turn," said Kennady. "You have been one phone call away and you were on the ball."

Scheel added: "Every time I've called these guys, they've been there. They've been a mainstay."

The judge also said that the various employees in the county were invaluable in getting clean-up efforts taken care of.

"If we didn't have guys like [Comal County Engineer] Tom Hornseth, we couldn't do our job," Scheel said. It's a trickle down effect, and we're very proud of all our employees and the way they support us. They're the ones that make us look good."

Hornseth estimated that about 60 homes in the Canyon Lake area were damaged and said the clean-up process began almost immediately. The main challenge in clean up was the amount of debris that had to be moved.

"There was a massive amount of rock and gravel," he said. "We tried to do cleanup in ways that kept the river flowing and recreational activities going. I think we were pretty successful."

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