At Lake Texoma, A Man, His Boat House, and a Decades-Long Fight With the Corps of Engineers

Charles Paternostro was 14 when, in the mid-'50s, his father purchased an acre of land on a five-story cliff overlooking Lake Texoma and built a modest, three-bedroom home. The family lived in Dallas full-time but spent their weekends at the reservoir, boating and swimming and fishing.

After his parents died, Pasternostro, an attorney, and his brothers inherited the place and quickly became, as he describes it, a thorn in the side of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"When my brother was alive several years ago, he was a lawyer too, and ... they would have such ridiculous rules, and we would challenge those rules," he said.

There was, then, a long-standing history of bad blood between Paternostro and the corps when he asked for permission to repair the boathouse his father had built on the lake. A few month later, lake manager Joe Custer sent a crew out to inspect the structure. A lot of work would need to be done, he determined. That meant the boat house and attached dock would and would have to go. If he refused, he faced up to a $5,000 fine and six months in jail.

All this was part of a plan, Paternostro says, to drive the lawyer off the lake, something Custer has been angling at for years.

"This Joe Custer, he's a hot dog," Paternostro said. "He thinks he's the king of the roost."

But Paternostro was having none of it. He has, by his count, filed four previous lawsuits against the corps, one after the agency ordered him to remove a refrigerator from his boat house because it was a sign of habitation. Another time, the corps was ultimately successful when it told him to remove water slides and diving boards from the edge of the lake. He's tried unsuccessfully to bring a class-action suit with his fellow boat house owners.

Last week, Paternostro sued again. He claims the corps has overstepped its authority by effectively preventing him from repairing his dock. He's seeking an injunction to prevent the agency from taking it down, as he says they plan to do.

I've left messages with the corps' Tulsa District public affairs office and with Custer.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson