DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas – Cycling champ Lance Armstrong is feuding with his neighbors over how to clean up a prized swimming hole that became polluted after he began building a dam on his Hill Country ranch.
When construction on the dam began a year and a half ago, sediment started streaming into Dead Man’s Hole, a deep pool fed by a creek that runs through Armstrong’s 450-acre ranch west of Austin.
The seven-time Tour de France champion said he has spent $500,000 removing the dam and repairing the creek banks, but several inches of sediment still line the pool’s floor.
His neighbors say he should pay another $50,000 to $60,000 to vacuum the dirty water from the pool, filter out the particles and return clean water to the pool.
“It’s just so aggravating because it’s so obvious what’s the right thing for a decent person to do,” said Jerry Hill, a 51-year-old woodworker who has lived near the pool for nearly 25 years.
Hill and several other Armstrong neighbors said they’re making their complaints public in hopes the dispute can be settled out of court.
Armstrong said his attorney, Jerry Webberman, has been meeting with consultants to find a cleanup method that’s best for the environment.
“To say that we’re not making progress and that we’re just stalling is completely and patently false,” he said. “I’m really sorry they’re upset, but I’ve done everything I can do and I’m going to continue to ultimately fix it.”
Armstrong added that he isn’t positive he’s entirely to blame for the pool’s cloudiness, saying it could be due to the ongoing drought or other homeowners’ construction upstream.
But another pool similar to Dead Man’s Hole is still clear despite the drought, said Raymond Slade Jr., a hydrologist at Texas State University’s Edwards Aquifer Research Center.
In “Every Second Counts,” Armstrong’s 2003 memoir about beating cancer, the cyclist said he bought the ranch because he was so drawn to Dead Man’s Hole. Jumping off the 45-foot waterfall that feeds the pool is his “own personal way of checking for vital signs,” he said in the book.
Armstrong, who also has a house in Austin, spends some weekends at his ranch house and said he still swims in the pool with his children.
But Hill, who used to swim there almost every day in the summer, said he braved the water fewer than 10 times this summer. It’s been two summers since the pool got cloudy, and he and his wife are fed up.
“You only have so much patience,” said his wife, Kathy Hill.