Crownover: Public Funding Needed for Dam Road
Jen Crownover, Comal County Commissioner Pct. 4, said a Friday meeting she scheduled with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to discuss reopening Canyon Lake dam’s service road went “great.”
A collaborative effort is now underway to bring the popular trail into compliance with federal guidelines for people with disabilities, she told MyCanyonLake.com.
The meeting was not open to the public and the scope and cost of proposed upgrades are unavailable at this time.
However, in an interview with KXAN-TV in San Antonio, Crownover said USACE will rely “heavily” on community funding once USACE releases formal plan later this summer.
“We will need the help, we will need members of the community to step up,” she said.
She said plans outlined in the meeting include upgrading the entrance gate to bring the service road into compliance with U.S. Access Board (ABA) guidelines.
“Everyone is united and working toward a collaborative solution,” she said in an interview with MyCanyonLake.com. “We were able to talk through some of the informal plans for the necessary safety upgrades and tweak them accordingly. USACE will be engineering the plans, and then they will be priced out. At that time, a financial strategy will be ironed with the partners and the community, and a timeline can be established.
“We hope it will not be long.”
Representatives from Water-Oriented Recreation District of Comal County (WORDCC.com), Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA.org), Comal County Engineer Tom Hornseth as well as USACE officials from both Canyon Lake and Fort Worth District attended the meeting. A representative from U.S. Senator John Cornyn’s office was there.
USACE closed the road without warning on May 21, citing safety concerns.
The move was resoundingly criticized by residents, who like to walk the dam and enjoy the scenic vistas only available from there. A petition posted on change.org, asking politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz to keep the dam open, attracted 18,400 signatures.
Shortly after the road was closed — with no explanation — Canyon Lake Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook explained the USACE was dialing back on “well-intentioned operational decisions that unfortunately excluded users with disabilities.”
However, the ABA, an independent federal agency created in 1973 to ensure access to federally funded facilities, said in a May 29 email to MyCanyonLake.com, that the USACE “flatly refused to make the trail accessible” and only needs to widen pedestrial access points to 36 inches and provide greater maneuvering clearance to bring the road into compliance with federal regulations.
Dave Yanchulis, who works in Public Affairs, said the USACE also reclassified the Canyon Lake Crest Trail as a road which, the Corps argued, would exempt them from meeting Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) standards.
USACE did not provide additional details about its decision to close the road, which was sparked by a May 22, 2017 complaint filed with the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that the pedestrian access points to reach the Canyon Dam Crest Trail were not accessible to those who use wheeled mobility devices, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Despite lengthy communication between USACE and the U.S. Access Board aimed at resolving the issue, USACE closed the road last month. U.S. Access Board said they learned of the closure through media accounts.
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The closure sparked a firestorm on social media, with most commentators saying it was ridiculous that a single complaint could result in the closure of a road clearly inappropriate for handicap access.
Distressed by the comments, the complainant — whose name is protected by law — reached out to Debbie England, who moderates Facebook’s closed but widely respected Take Back Canyon Lake group. The subsequent post was widely shared on social media and on Nextdoor.com.
“I truly regret my part in this,” he said. “I should have just taken my lumps and been done with it. I am just sick over all of this.”
However, Canyon Lake resident Valerie Lynn Visser, who also works with the local Parent Teacher Association, said the elderly gentleman is a hero.
She said USACE has had decades to comply with federal disability laws.
“The gentleman who started this year’s inquiry was not the first, he’s just the first whose inquiry was acted upon,” she said. “Once this issue is resolved, and access is again granted to everyone, this man should be revered for the positive change he has brought for the disabled in our local community and our tourist community.”