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Travis County OKs funds to buy flood-prone Timber Creek

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

County commissioners agreed to loosen the purse strings yesterday in order to begin the purchase of flood-prone properties in the Timber Creek subdivision in southeast Travis County using $3.9 million in bond money approved by voters back in 2006.


The Army Corps of Engineers finally has completed its study of Timber Creek and confirmed the subdivision in the floodway. After more than a decade of work – Travis County purchased the first floodway properties in Timbercreek in 1997 – it is welcome news to Travis County, which still has substantial work to do.


The problem is that Congress has not approved the appropriations for Travis County. And that won’t happen before year’s end. So the county – even knowing the federal government has agreed to a 65-35 match – can’t move forward. Roughly, the county’s portion would buy out homes and the federal portion would be used to restore parkland and add trails in the area to turn the space into an amenity.


At Tuesday’s Court meeting, Executive Director Joe Gieselman and Planner Anna Bowlin proposed a plan to use current bond money approved by voters two years ago to begin purchasing property from willing sellers, while waiting for a federal match to be approved by Congress. 


Gieselman admitted there was some amount of risk involved in the Court’s approval of the funding. Congress could decide it did not intend to fund the category or program. But it is clear, if and when federal funding is approved, that whatever the county spends up to that date will be counted toward a match, Gieselman said.


Commissioner Ron Davis asked how those homeowners who couldn’t afford to move – and therefore decline to be a willing seller – might be handled. Gieselman noted that 47 properties – most with mobile homes — had been sold so far, and no one who took the settlement for the property had been unable to find a home.  Commissioner Margaret Gomez, who has heard from constituents, agreed.


Asked for a timeline, Gieselman said a consultant retained for Timber Creek could be engaged to another contract within the month. The first homes could be bought by the end of the year, and full use of the funding completed within a year. Gieselman presented a map that ranked properties in the area and said priority would be given to those homeowners closest to the floodway.


That’s with willing sellers. If landowners refuse to participate, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could use eminent domain. At that point, the government would be able to take the land, Gieselman said. That could lengthen the time line for the acquisition, demolition and rehabilitation of the property.

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