Serving Kerr County with a Conscience

Flood Protection Inadequate in Kerr County

If you are new to Kerr County, and even if you have lived here for some time, you may not know that you live in “Flash Flood Alley”—an area that has some of the worst flash-flood prone land in the world. In the past 83 years, Kerr County has had some truly horrifying floods. The one most remembered for our area, for the deaths and the property devastation, was the August 2, 1978 flood—but other major floods occurred in 1932, 1946, 1952, 1987, 1991, 1997, and, the last big flood, in 2002.

While most people believe that they won’t be affected by a big flood, the truth is, they are wrong; if anything, the chance of experiencing a disastrous flood in the Hill Country has increased. Global warming has created extremes in weather, resulting in more severe tropical storms sweeping in from the Gulf of Mexico. The drought that has plagued the Hill Country since 2006—with the terrible, worst year of 2011—has denuded terraces, and swept away topsoil, exposing the bedrock of the ancient seas. Water flows faster across these devastated landscapes.

There are many issues involved in floodplain management, and in the next few weeks we intend to explore these issues and explain why, at the current time, protection from killer floods is not being handled properly in Kerr County. (See “Old River Road RV Park Being Built in the Special Flood Hazard Zone.”)

Altering the floodplain of the Guadalupe River, as well as the floodplains of its major streams, changes the way that water flows and is allowed to drain. Under federal law, FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—is responsible to insure that citizens have protection from flooding. FEMA enters into contracts with local governments to carry out floodplain management. Kerr County’s floodplain management is carried out by Road and Bridge, and the county hires a part-time engineer, John Hewitt, as the “Flood Plain Administrator” (FPA.) The City of Kerrville has its own FPA, and manages the floodplain within its city limits. Even though there are many issues with floodplain management right outside the city—in the ETJ (Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction), these areas are managed by the county.

Today, more than ever before, the politics of floodplain management place people at risk. It’s all about money. Developers do not want to be told that they cannot build in the floodplain. Cities and counties don’t want to be told that they will not receive tax revenues from a particular land parcel because it is in the floodplain, and should not be developed. Private property owners do not want government interfering and telling them what to do with their land. Sadly, there are corrupt engineers that manipulate the floodplain to allow developers the maximum use of their property—at the expense of the public.

Do you live in an area that has flooded in the past? In the final analysis, you should find out. Subdivision developers won’t tell you, realtors won’t tell you, and most of the time, local government won’t tell you. The lives of your family, your pets, and your property may depend upon taking the initiative yourself and preparing for the next big flood.

Areas that we will be exploring:

  • Why does eastern Kerr County—the Ingram, Hunt, Kerrville, Center Point, and Comfort communities—experience such deadly flash floods? What climatic forces are at work that create record rainfalls in short periods of time?
  • Have we learned from the floods of the past? “Historic Floods in Kerr County”
  • Eyewitness accounts of flood survivors
  • Floodplain Administration: How are floodplains determined in Kerr County? FEMA requires that communities be involved in floodplain determination. This hasn’t happened in Kerr County.
  • As a citizen, what rights do you have, and what access to local government do you have, if you are concerned about flooding around your property?
  • Between Kerrville and Comfort, there are several major streams that flow into the Guadalupe River. In the past, these streams have contributed significantly to death and destruction by floods; yet most of these streams are unrecognized, not studied, and not taken into account when developers want to build in the floodplain.
  • Much of Kerr County has FEMA maps that are old, hurriedly put together in the first place, and are just plain wrong. What can we do to update these maps?
  • As a community, what can we do to insure that floods of the past will not be forgotten, and that newcomers are more aware of the dangers of living in “Flash Flood Alley?”
  • Without adequate scientific information, floodplain decisions cannot be made accurately. How can we all work to insure that confluence water rises, cresting heights, and water inflow from streams are gauged and recorded?

Mary Matthews


Motheral Conflict of Interest


  • Does Kerrville City Councilman Bruce Motheral have conflicting interests by supporting river preservation and tourism downtown, and facilitating river destruction when his engineering fees secure him money?

Since the City of Kerrville doesn’t pay its Council a salary, in order to be a City Councilman candidates have to be independently wealthy—or find the time to practice their professions on the side.

This hasn’t been a problem in the past, since many of the elected City Councilmen are self-employed entrepreneurs and developers. In fact, being a City Councilman—acquiring an intimate knowledge of the way the City works and rubbing elbows with the local power brokers—could be very convenient, if the Councilman is an Engineer and his clients are the local gravel quarries.

Could anyone, living in the Kerrville area, travelling on Highway 27 to Center Point, or driving down “scenic” Sutherland and River Roads, not be aware of the curse of gravel quarries in this area, disfiguring the landscape and polluting the Guadalupe River? The land of the closest quarry, Rountree, is owned in part by developer Richard Colvin: it is located right in the city’s backyard, in the ETJ (the City’s Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction). Ever wonder where all that dust comes from, as you approach the airport travelling east? This quarry is a major air polluter, although you can’t see the actual facility from Highway 27. Travelling east, the next quarry encountered is just south of the airport, on the south side of the highway. A new quarry, it’s only been open a few years, on land owned by wealthy developer Max Duncan. It’s leased by mega conglomerate Martin Marietta Materials Southwest, Ltd. Immediately adjacent to the east is another quarry, owned by Joe Drymala, who also mines for gravel in the Comfort area—in fact, right in his own front yard. East of Drymala is the Bedrock Sand and Gravel Plant, owned and operated by Martin Marietta. Next time you are on Google Earth, check out the huge blotch on the landscape caused by this facility. Then we all know about the controversy several years ago over the expansion of Wheatcraft east of Center Point. Surely eastern Kerr County and the City of Kerrville’s Hwy. 27 “Gateway” could be given another name—“Skid Rock Row.”

Much of the gravel located immediately south of Highway 27, east of the airport, comes from a major tributary to the north, “Nowlin’s Hollow” (more on why this is called Nowlin’s Hollow later.) Nowlin’s Hollow actually travels at a slant on its insistent run to the Guadalupe River, running from the NE to the SW. So much water cascades down the hills east of the airport that the resulting gravel has made the mine owners millionaires several times over. There are several locations where the water flow is so heavy that TXDOT has expansive culverts underlying Highway 27; in the 1978 flood the highway in this area was completely covered with water, and impassable.

From Highway 27From Highway 27
A few weeks ago, people living in the area east of the airport noticed some heavy duty bulldozing and construction going on, right next to the highway, in the area of one of these culverts—on property owned by Joe Drymala. Since the area under construction is located in the 100-year flood plain, before any work was done, Drymala needed a Floodplain Permit from Kerr County Floodplain Administrator John Hewitt (technically, since the construction area is in the ETJ, the City of Kerrville should be conducting the floodplain permitting, but since the City and the County are fighting over development jurisdiction in the ETJ, this area has been given to Kerr County for floodplain review.) No permit application had been made to Hewitt, and his office had no idea what Drymala was proposing. However, we were informed that Drymala would be preparing the proper study and technical information and it would come from his Engineering Consultant—Kerrville City Councilman Bruce Motheral.

Drymala 3From Highway 27
Since the proposed development is within the City’s ETJ, other reviews and permits could also be required. It’s very possible that the Kerrville City Council, or one of the City’s Boards, like Planning and Zoning, will be reviewing this construction. Do you think that, under these circumstances, it is a conflict of interest for Councilman Bruce Motheral to serve as Drymala’s Engineering Consultant?

This is not the first time that Motheral has been involved in engineering studies and floodplain permitting—both as a privately-practicing engineer, and as a City of Kerrville official. In 2006, when Martin Marietta Materials Southwest, Ltd. (MM) made application to expand their mining activities to a new site immediately adjacent to the H.M. Naylor Ranch Historic District, and just SE of the Kerr County Airport, Bruce Motheral wrote the engineering study that said it was okay for MM to “demolish” Nowlin’s Hollow tributary and build a road right across the floodplain. At that time, Motheral wasn’t on the City Council—but he was the Chair of the City of Kerrville’s Planning and Zoning Commission. In 2006, the City had the zoning ability to stop Martin Marietta’s expansion. Do you think that under these circumstances, it was a conflict of interest for the Chair of the City of Kerrville’s Planning and Zoning Commission to also serve as Martin Marietta’s Engineering Consultant?

Just one more fact about Councilman Motheral. After knowing this area so well, Motheral, during his tenure as a Kerrville City Councilman, also was a strong proponent of Richard Colvin’s disastrous plan to develop a 280-unit RV Park on the flood plain SW of the present quarries. Old timers talk about this plain, during the big floods—1932, 1978—and most of the plain was covered with water from Nowlin’s Hollow, except for one prominent knoll. Atop this knoll is an ancient live oak tree, the site of the Wellborn family cemetery, where five members of the Wellborn family, in the 1860s, were buried. Colvin planned to completely destroy this family cemetery in his RV development. At the Planning and Zoning Board’s hearing, Motheral could be seen huddling with Colvin, shaking hands, offering his support.This development would have happened—and may still happen—but appears to be on hold, perhaps the only good thing to come out of the recession.

No doubt, when and if it comes up again, Bruce Motheral will be pushing for it—if he wins re-election to the City Council on Saturday.

Please click here for the PDF file for documentation accompanying this article.

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