MASON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — An illegal dam in the Texas Hill Country is being demolished following reports from KXAN. The dam, constructed along the James River in Mason County, was built in 2023.

Investigations from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) found the dam was constructed without permits.

Meanwhile, in western Mason County, a second dam has been located along Leon Creek. This dam was also built without permits, according to TPWD.

“We’re sure glad that that damn dam is gone,” said Susan Keeling, a landowner who lives further down the James River. She and her sister, Kathy Zesch-Bradley, told KXAN about the dam after noticing the river had slowed to trickle.

“During dry seasons, ranchers in the hill country need that water in their rivers for their wildlife and their livestock,” Keeling said. The James River feeds into the Llano River, which provides water to Lake Travis, Austin’s water supply.

What appears to be freshly-poured concrete extends the width of the James River in Mason County -- a tributary to the Llano River, which flows into the Highlan Lakes. (KXAN Photo/David Yeomans)
What appears to be freshly-poured concrete extends the width of the James River in Mason County — a tributary to the Llano River, which flows into the Highland Lakes. (KXAN Photo/David Yeomans)

In October, KXAN crews visited the dam and witnessed it holding back several feet of water, while the other side of the river remained completely dry.

Restoring the James River

In May 2023, a 404-acre plot of land was purchased by an entity called ‘Neusch Mason, LLC.’ Mason County Appraisal District records link the LLC to Bill Neusch, CEO of Gibraltar. That company has built and installed more than 150 miles of the Texas/Mexico border wall, according to its website.

In September, TPWD informed Neusch Mason, LLC that they had violated the law and must submit a restoration plan. That plan was due November 20, but TPWD provided an extension until December 20.

On January 17, 2024 TPWD told Neusch Mason, LLC in a letter that “any structure left below the gradient boundary of the James River must meet the requirements set out in Chapter 86” of the Texas Administrative Code.

Additionally, the dam must be “removed entirely” from the low water channel, ensuring the James River’s flow returns to normal.

A dam constructed illegally on the James River in Mason County was ordered to be torn down and the river restored. (Courtesy: Eric Henrikson/KXAN)

Neusch Mason, LLC submitted a restoration plan on March 20, 2024, which was then approved by TPWD.

According to the restoration plan, 310 feet of the 400-foot wide dam had to be removed from the river. Two ramps could be constructed to provide access across the river.

Work was approved on March 22 and began on April 1. The project is required to be complete by April 30, contingent on weather, according to TPWD.

“I certainly think that justice has prevailed here because such a travesty to hurt many, just for the pleasure of one person,” Keeling said.

KXAN reached out to Bill Neusch, but his attorney declined to comment.

Another illegal dam discovered

While water now flows on the James River, ten miles away at Leon Creek in Mason County, another illegal dam built in a remote area is restricting access to water.

Photos taken last fall. provided to KXAN by landowners in Mason County, show a dam built along Leon Creek.

“In September, my husband went to check the cattle and went down to where the creek goes into the Llano river. And the creek was only a trickle,” said Kerry Hormann, a landowner in Mason County.

Hofmann’s family has owned land along Leon Creek for more than a century. She said this is the first time it has stopped flowing. Neighbors living further upstream told Hofmann they had discovered a dam had appeared along the creek.

Hofmann said it was the first time they heard anything about the dam. They were not notified that the landowner was building a dam.

It was completely built “sometime in the summer” by the time Hofmann discovered its construction.

Both TCEQ and TPWD told KXAN they are investigating this dam. This dam, it is important to note, is NOT on land owned by Neusch Mason, LLC.

TPWD told KXAN that the dam “does not have a sand and gravel permit issued by the agency.” They are investigating the “disturbance or taking of marl, sand, gravel, shell and mudshell.”

Issues related to water impoundment fall under the TCEQ, who declined to provide further details about their ongoing investigation.

Hofmann said all they want is the restoration of the creek’s flow. She said that since they discovered the dam, some water has returned to the creek, but its not what is typical this time of year.

KXAN photojournalist Todd Bynum contributed to this report.