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Ladonia anticipates development as Lake Ralph Hall project proceeds

Construction of Lake Ralph Hall is expected to have a ripple effect on southeastern Fannin County's economy.
John Kanelis
Construction of Lake Ralph Hall is expected to have a ripple effect on southeastern Fannin County's economy.

The community's regionally famous Fossil Park has a temporary location while the reservoir is under construction.

They’re building a new Dollar General store in little Ladonia.

And according to Upper Trinity Regional Water District officials in charge of a significant reservoir construction project now underway, the new store could signal the start of a rebirth of the town with a posted population of 612 inhabitants.

The water district is declaring that it is on track to complete construction of Northeast Texas’s newest reservoir.

“We’re slowly seeing benefits from the lake,” said Jason Pierce, government affairs and communications manager for the Upper Trinity district. “Land values are going up,” he said, “but the benefit won’t happen overnight.”

The total project is going to cost “between $500 million and $600 million,” Pierce estimated.

Lake Ralph Hall, which bears the name of the late Ralph M. Hall, a longtime member of Congress, is set to soon start receiving water behind an earthen dam being built in southeast Fannin County.

Of course, as with the larger Bois d’Arc Lake northeast of Bonham, Mother Nature has to cooperate with lake planners in order for the basin to be filled with water. The region – indeed much of Texas – is in the midst of a prolonged drought, so it remains a bit of an open question as to when the region’s newest reservoir will be ready for general use by the public.

The Upper Trinity district notes that “major tasks currently underway include a 1.1-mile pedestrian-friendly Texas Highway 34 bridge that reroutes a portion of Farm-to-Market Road 1550.

“Flatiron Construction is about 50% compete with the roadway relocation and construction of the new highway bridge over the North Sulphur River. We continue to install large beams on top of the concrete columns and pour the bridge decking,” according to Ed Motley, Lake Ralph Hall program manager for the Upper Trinity River Water District.

Leon Hurse Dam, named after a longtime Ladonia mayor, also is well underway. Officials say the dam is about 10% complete and includes a 2.3-mile-long earthen embankment that will form a reservoir capable of storing 180,000 acre-feet of water.

Officials are planning a 32-mile-long raw water pipeline, a balancing reservoir, an operation/maintenance facility and upgrades to county roads next to the new reservoir.

As with the Bois d’Arc Lake project, Lake Ralph Hall will require some mitigation to restore land inundated by the water that will form the reservoir eventually. “Final design of the aquatic mitigation will begin soon,” Upper Trinity officials noted in a statement. “This part of the project will include re-creating a portion of the original Sulphur River channel as an offset to any impact the new reservoir may have on existing aquatic resources,” the statement continues.

These reservoirs, of course, do draw some opposition. One group, the Texas Conservation Alliance, remains steadfastly opposed to continuing development of reservoirs in North and Northeast Texas.

Janice Bezanson, a resident of Cass County north of Longview, has about 40 years of experience studying – and fighting – reservoir development. She traces the region’s history of reservoir building back to a “terrible drought we had in the 1950s, when some communities ran out of water.” She said the drought prompted the Texas Water Development Board and other agencies to embark on a 30-year program to develop surface-water reservoirs.

“Instead of building new reservoirs,” Bezanson said, “we need to make better use of the reservoirs we already have.” One example, she said, would be to reclaim wastewater, clean it and return it to potable water use reserves.

Bezanson noted that the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir – which has garnered tremendous opposition from environmental groups – would put 66,000 acres of “valuable land” under water. “This land is being taken away from people, who are losing their livelihoods,” she said, while acknowledging that burgeoning metro areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth, are “going to need water.”

Upper Trinity district officials report that Lake Ralph Hall will inundate slightly more than 12,000 acres, or about 2% of all the land in Fannin County. Agricultural revenue loss from the lake would be about $800,000, according to Upper Trinity officials, or 2% of the county total.

“The net positive effects from Lake Ralph Hall would be modest in the early years,” according to a policy paper published by the water district, “but grow steadily to make a substantial contribution after year 30, following the initial reservoir fill.”

Despite the opposition, Pierce and the Upper Trinity district remain encouraged by what they see will be an eventual rebirth in the region. One element of the project that gets water district officials excited is the relocation of the Ladonia Fossil Park to a temporary location on the north side of the North Sulphur River, east of FM 2990. “The new park provides fossil hunters with easier access to the riverbed during construction of the reservoir,” Pierce noted. The district plans to build a permanent fossil park downriver from the Hurse dam.

“They did find a fossil on our property,” Pierce said of the recent discovery of fossil bones of a mossosaur, a “30- to 40-foot lizard.” Pierce said paleontologists have taken much of the fossil to the Perot Science Museum in downtown Dallas, where the remains are being prepared for public display.

With increased value in property, Pierce said, communities throughout the immediate region are going to see upticks in sales tax revenue. He said Ladonia already is experiencing such an increase. He figures it only will get better as more business sprouts up in the community.