Dripping Springs wedding venue accused of causing pollution

Accusations of creek pollution caused by construction of a controversial Driftwood wedding venue is generating concerns from residents who worry the issue could negatively affect the Edwards Aquifer.

The Driftwood-area Mark Black Wedding Venue, located on Crystal Hills Drive in Dripping Springs’ extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), was cited in February 2019 for three environmental violations, which have since been addressed by the owner. The venue is owned by Mark and Michael Black. 

But three months later, nearby residents are still seeing potential environmental violations near the construction site.

Carlos Torres-Verdin, president of Friendship Alliance and neighboring resident, said multiple eyewitnesses are seeing a milky substance run through a neighboring creek from the construction’s site.

“I immediately noticed the change in the water last week,” Torres-Verdin said. “We monitor the creek all the time and we’ve never seen anything like this before. The creek has always been pristine until now.”

The creek is a small body of water that eventually joins Bear Creek, which contributes to the Edwards Aquifer. Torres-Verdin said he fears the milky substance could make its way to people’s drinking water.

Neighbors have taken water samples from the creek and are awaiting scientific analysis on the components of the water.

The visual change in the water’s composition came a week after major flooding swept through western portions of Hays County, which could be the source of the contamination due to the high amount of runoff.

Dripping Springs City Administrator Michelle Fischer said the city had received a complaint regarding the wedding venue and the alleged pollution in the creek. Aaron Reed, Dripping Springs’ code enforcement and construction inspector, has made a visit to the site, Fischer said. 

“He directed the contractor to clean and repair the damaged erosion controls,” Fischer said. “A determination has not been made at this time regarding whether a violation occurred. City staff is in communications with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regarding the matter.”

Torres-Verdin said he predicts that the environmental protection measures did not account for high volumes of runoff, which could have caused the incident.

“This is not an attack on the wedding venue or its business,” Torres-Verdin said. “We are just extremely concerned with the water and environmental quality of the land. We all share the land and it will affect us all.”

However, the Blacks disputed claims construction on the venue caused any pollutants to the creek. 

“We are committed to keeping a clean creek and helping clean up any natural runoff that may occur in the future,” according to a statement from Mark and Michael Black. “With the massive flash flooding that occurred over the past two weeks, we were happy with how our protective measures held up. The creek is in great condition and we look forward to keeping it that way forever.” 

According to the statement, the Blacks said their team has “gone through this process in the most professional way possible” and they have “cut no corners to make this property one of the most beautiful ranches in Texas.” 

“Through it all, we have abided by every law, ordinance, and regulation from local, state, and federal government,” according to the statement. 

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