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Flood control plan spurs residents' angst

Monday, November 7, 2005 by

Corps of Engineers' plan would cut back yards, trees along Williamson Creek

Flood control plans along the Broken Bow area of Williamson Creek in South Austin have homeowners in the Western Trails Neighborhood Association (WTNA) in a dilemma: they acknowledge the need to rein in the creek during heavy rain events, but say plans proposed by the City of Austin and the US Army Corps of Engineers are overkill, taking too big of a bite out of their back yards.

Officials with the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department outlined plans for flood hazard mitigation along Williamson and Onion creeks in far South and Southwest Austin. Beginning in 1999, Austin and the Corps of Engineers started planning in a partnership with Sunset Valley, Travis County, and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).

If approved by Congress, some $45 million in federal funds could be made available for the project, cutting the local costs by about 65 percent.

However, some in the neighborhood say the plans take a heavy-handed approach and would essentially destroy what they are trying to protect.

“The primary architect of this project is the Corps of Engineers, the same folks that brought us the New Orleans levees, “said Bill Stewart with the WTNA. “The proposal would build a vegetative bench on one side of the creek that would involve from 50 to 80 to 100 feet of people’s back yards basically being excavated at bank height, and most of the elder trees would be removed.”

Stewart said the neighborhood has studied the proposal and has made its concerned known to members of the City Council, saying they have received a response from Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Betty Dunkerley.

“We believe that the plan that is on the table is needlessly intrusive,” he said. “Basically, we’re being painted as being in denial and endangering ourselves. Absolutely no one is opposed to flood control measures, but one of the primary things is that this neighborhood has never had a flooding problem.”

Stewart says neighbors have found the Corps’ definition of where the flood plain is to be a moving target. He cites the 1998 flooding of Williamson and Onion Creeks as an example. He said some sources have characterized that event—the convergence of two tropical storms over the area—as a 25-year event. Members of the project team initially termed it a 20-year event, but the latest feasibility study indicates that it was only a 10-year event.

“That has the appearance of being a contrived way to get consistency in the feasibility study and a positive outcome for the cost benefit analysis,” Stewart said. “Their proposal would reduce the water level in their homes in a 100-year flood event from four feet to three feet. I don’t know if losing your back yard is worth having a foot less water inside your home.”

He said the alternative to building the vegetative bench in the Broken Bow area of the creek is to buy out some 58 homes and remove them.

“My opinion is that the Army Corps of Engineers has a hammer, and to them, everything looks like a nail,” Stewart said. “The city is over a barrel because if they go with the Corps of Engineers’ plan, the federal government pays 50 to 65 percent of the cost. And if the city proposes too many changes, then the Corps can just pick up its marbles and go home.”

A project team meeting is scheduled for 2pm Wednesday at the Sunset Valley City Hall to discuss the flood control plans. The City of Austin Environmental board is also scheduled to review the plans later this month.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hurricane news . . . Former Austin consultant Sarah Crocker is in New Orleans again. Her French Quarter condo suffered no damage from Hurricane Katrina and Crocker has moved back in to take advantage of a unique opportunity. Crocker and a partner plan to operate a mobile restaurant to serve some of the thousands of workers in the city who are having a hard time finding a good hot breakfast and lunch. She said they plan to dub the trailer the Katrina Cantina . . . Indy media plans to sue city . . . Reporters and anti-Klan protestors who were kept away from the Ku Klux Klan's rally at the plaza outside City Hall on Saturday are expected to file a lawsuit against the city today. "I feel our rights were violated by not being able attend at free speech plaza to cover and see what was happening there," said Nick Papatonis, a producer for the public-access show "Austin Gay TV.” The city’s Public Information Office last week notified reporters that they would need credentials in advance to access the plaza during the demonstration, and at least three dozen members of the press were present (outnumbering the dozen KKK members and supporters). But some media outlets that don't normally cover City Hall apparently didn't receive the message. Attorney Jim Harrington with the Texas Civil Rights Project plans to release details of the lawsuit, charging violations of the right to free speech and assembly, this afternoon at City Hall. On Saturday, Austin Police Chief Stan Knee defended the buffer zone between the KKK and protestors, saying "it's clear that in order to maintain public safety, we were required to do that." The city did avoid a bad situation by limiting access to the Klan . . . Police chief blue s . . . With the Klan in town and two civilians shot by officers, last week could not have been a good week for Police Chief Stan Knee. That was after the Halloween evening hearing on last summer’s shooting of teenager Daniel Rocha. After 5pm Friday, the Police Monitor’s Office announced that the Citizen Review Panel had made a recommendation to Knee. However, no findings will be made public until after Discipline Review Board, which is scheduled to meet on November 18. The deadline for Knee to discipline the officer involved in the shooting, Julie Schroeder, is set by state law at 180 days after the incident—in this case Dec. 6. It is possible that the panel asked Knee to have an independent investigation. But if that is what happened, it seems unlikely that much of an investigation could occur between Knee’s receipt of the recommendation and the deadline. . . . Meetings . . . The Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee meets at 4pm in room 1101 at City Hall. The panel will consider expanding the boundaries of the Downtown Transportation Oriented District, and proposed amendments to the Design Standards policy. . . The Bond Election Advisory Committee meets at 6pm in room 1001 at City Hall . . . The Music Commission is scheduled to meet at 6pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . The Austin Community College Board of Trustees meets at 6pm at Highland Business Center, 5930 Middle Fiskville Rd. Trustees will discuss whether to consider going to single-member districts. . . . RMA pays up, says anti-tollers . . . Following a court hearing in July, Judge Darlene Byrne ruled that Texas Regional Mobility Authority board terms were unconstitutional, and awarded the group People for Efficient Transportation (PET) some $19,000 in attorneys fees. According to a news release from PET, CTRMA attorney Brian Cassidy said at the time "We do not believe payment is warranted and the authority will appeal." However, according to PET founder Sal Costello, CTRMA’s check for $19,331.98 was delivered to PET Inc. counsel Friday and there will be no appeal. There is a proposed constitutional amendment, Proposition 9, on Tuesday’s ballot that would allow six-year terms. PET opposes the measure, saying six years is too long.

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