Advancing a lake career

Moving from Houston to Thornton in 1983 was like going off a freeway and onto a dirt road, said Jackie Scott, Brazos River Authority Lake Limestone assistant reservoir manager and program coordinator.

The communities around the reservoir in Limestone, Robertson and Leon counties have, of course, grown in the past three-plus decades, though the area largely still retains the country, quiet feel.

Until the pandemic swept the globe in March 2020, forcing shutdowns across the country, the reservoir was often referred to as one of Texas' best-kept secrets, Scott said. Those who enjoyed fishing eagerly flocked to Lake Limestone due to the flooded timber and abundance of aquatic vegetation that offers cover for largemouth and white bass as well as crappie and catfish.

Then that changed.

"This past year, as different as it was, a lot of people found Lake Limestone that never knew it existed," Scott said. "In 2020, we were extremely busy because people were suddenly buying property all along the lake. A lot of property seemed to change hands. A lot of people found Lake Limestone and wanted to develop it in some sort of fashion, whether that was building a boat dock or other on-water facility."

Moving up

Many of those changes kept an already-busy Scott even busier as she leads permit inspections for properties around the reservoir.

Scott and her family had lived in Houston near her parents until her husband's job transferred him. She said she was already a little familiar with the Lake Limestone area because her in-laws – who owned a local café - lived in the surrounding community. Scott said she found herself having to make special trips to go to the grocery store, compared to living in Houston, where she'd pass any number of stores on her way home. But after about six months of the slower pace and country living, she said, she wouldn't have traded it for the world.

Now she lives less than two miles from the BRA lake and the group she calls her work family.

"Our maintenance department is right here outside the back door. We intermingle all day long. We're a pretty close group. We're like work family," Scott said. "It takes teamwork to accomplish major projects, and it takes teamwork every day to accomplish our goals. That's something we've always prided ourselves in, working as a team."

Located on the upper Navasota River, construction of Lake Limestone was completed in 1978. The reservoir is formed via the Sterling C. Robertson Dam, which runs 8,395 feet long and stands 72 feet tall. The structure holds back 203,780 acre-feet, or 66.4 billion gallons, of water supply within the reservoir’s 98 miles of shoreline and surface area of 12,486 acres.

Scott was hired in 1987 as a clerk typist when Dwight Mahoney was reservoir manager. She was promoted in 1991 to secretary, then admin assistant.

In 2002, there was a need for the lake office to expand the permitting department. Scott said she told Mahoney she was interested in taking that responsibility over. With his approval, she sought out and earned all the necessary licenses to handle inspections, including septic-related assessments for the state.

She has a designated representative license to inspect septic systems and a site evaluator's license. Scott also earned her real estate license, as she says it comes in handy.

When she receives an application for, for instance, a boat dock, she has to review property lines and measure different distances to the shore and other docks against the property lines. It's often like putting a piece of a puzzle in place, she said.

As part of the promotion to handle permits, she also became the safety officer. At the time, the lake office didn't have an official safety program, so Scott also became responsible for ensuring all employees had the safety supplies required to do their job and maintain safe practices.

Scott handles several permits that lakeside owners may require: permits for an on-site sewage facility, permits to alter or repair a septic system, on-water facility permits, residential-use water permits, and residential improvement permits. All require back-and-forth with homeowners, and different forms, fees and proposed facility sketches. There are far more permits to handle now than before as the population grows around the reservoir, she said. There are roughly 1,140 permitted boat docks.

Knowing the land

In 2005, Scott was promoted to program coordinator. And in January 2012, she was again promoted to Assistant Project Manager/Program Coordinator. Then in October 2019, her title changed to Assistant Reservoir Manager/Program Coordinator. Mahoney had retired in 2010, and longtime coworker Davy Moore, who's been with the BRA since 1974, was now Reservoir Manager.

Typically, the number of permit applications increases during warmer months as people look to make improvements to their boat dock or install a new pier, she said. But even when there's not a stack of permits on her desk, Scott is handling the annual inspection of all on-water facilities, which requires visiting every single one of them.

"I know a lot of people," Scott said. "I feel like I have a really good working relationship not only with the customers, but with my contractors who work on the lake."

The main infraction she sees is typically safety-related, or when a homeowner has made a revision without first being approved, Scott said.

Sometimes lake rangers travel with Scott by water or land around the reservoir for inspections of on-water facilities, or to look at a septic system someone has installed. She said the practice helps new lake rangers become more and more familiar with, not just the lake, but subdivisions and neighborhoods, so when there was a call, they could respond more quickly.

Believing in the mission

On top of her permitting responsibilities, she is responsible for the maintenance department. She said they go over projects that need to be done, along with the daily grind of mowing, and budgeting.

"One main project we finished recently was refacing all the metal buildings around here," she said. "That was a major project for us."

Currently, she said, they are waiting for the weather to improve to begin re-painting everything in Park No. 5, giving the area a facelift to be ready for the spring and summer crowds. Lake Limestone offers four parks with primitive camping and picnic facilities and four boat ramps for lake access. Two of those public use areas - Sterling Robertson Dam Public Use Area #1 and Public Use Area #5 – are owned and operated by the BRA. The other two belong to Limestone County.

Scott will celebrate her 34th anniversary with the BRA in May.

"I really feel blessed to be able to come to work to a place that I love," she said. "I still have a sense of pride in where I work. I believe in our mission. I believe in what we do. I've been very, very blessed with some great people to work with, from bosses to coworkers. And I like what I do. I like working with the public, working with the contractors. I try to do my job with a sense of pride and integrity."

When she's not working, Scott said, she spends as much time as possible with her family.

"Family is everything," she said. "I'm very blessed."

She mostly enjoys following her two grandsons around.

"I try not to miss anything they do," she said. "I love to watch them do whatever it is they are doing, whether it's sports or showing an animal at a county fair. I try to do as much with them as I can."