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Mark Richardson is a multimedia journalist, editor and writer who has worked in digital, print and broadcast media for three decades. He is a nationally recognized editor and reporter who has covered government, politics and the environment. A journalism graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, he was recently awarded a Foundation for Investigative Journalism grant and has three Associated Press Managing Editors awards for excellence in reporting.
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City, county to expand home buyouts for flooded areas
The City of Austin and Travis County are both preparing to expand their ongoing programs to buy and demolish the homes of residents who live in flood-prone areas. And with last week’s severe flooding in the Onion Creek 25-year flood plain, both the city and the county say they are stepping up their programs.
In the past two decades, the city has bought some 320 properties out of the 483 they have identified as being in the flood-prone area. With last week’s Halloween Flood, city officials say they are planning to add about 100 more houses to the buyout program.
“Most of those homes are going to be in the Onion Creek flood buyout area.” said Mapi Vigil, a managing engineer with the city’s Watershed Protection Department. “Our initial assessment shows that a number of homes in that area were heavily damaged.”
However, some people who lost or had their homes damaged by last week’s flood have been waiting for years for their turn in the flood buyout program. City officials say the program often has to wait for funds before it can move on to its next group of homes for buyouts.
The city began buying homes in 1999 after heavy flooding the previous year made it clear that many structures had been built in the flood plain and were unfit to live in. City officials have used a combination of federal and local funds to buy the properties over the years, but for homes damaged in the Halloween Flood, Vigil said the city will be using its own funds.
“This will be coming out of city funding,” she said. “We have some bond money that is available from previous years, and we’ll be looking for other funds in our budget to make this happen.”
At least 15 homes were destroyed last week and 259 suffered major damage, according to city officials. Vigil said her department already has authorization to add homes to the buyout program.
“Our program has been authorized since 2007, and it’s just a matter of finding the money to make it happen” she said, adding that a federal disaster declaration could bring in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.
Travis County has also been buying out housing in its part of the flood plain, but does not currently have any funding to start buying out homes from last week’s disaster. However, the Transportation and Natural Resources Department plans to begin gathering information of those who lost their homes or sustained severe damage in case funding becomes available.
“Anytime we have one of these events, people start calling us immediately,” said Melinda Mallia, an environmental project manager for the TNR. “So we have set up an intake process where we…will walk people through the intake process so we can collect the information we need to get back to them.”
She said that way the county can be ready when the opportunity buy out homes presents itself.
“If there is a federal disaster declaration, or if the Court decides to spend more money for buyouts and authorize a new buyout program, we’ll have these people queued up and we can try to find funding to help them out,” Mallia told County Commissioners in a briefing on Tuesday
County officials have scheduled two meetings next week for residents to get information and begin filling out forms. Buyout applications are used to seek additional funding, apply for grants, and advise the Commissioners Court on funding needs for a buyout.
The first meeting is set for 6:30pm on Nov. 12 at Langford Elementary School 2206 Blue Meadow Drive. That meeting is for property owners in unincorporated areas of Onion Creek, including Bluff Springs, Brandt Road, Perkins, Arroyo Doble and Twin Creeks. The second meeting, primarily for the Timber Creek neighborhood, is at 6:30pm on Nov. 13 at the South Rural Community Center at 3518 FM 973 South in Del Valle.
For more information on the county meetings, contact TNR’s Mickey Roberts at 512-854-6613 or at Mickey.Roberts@co.travis.tx.us.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Halloween Flood: A devastating flash flood that struck the Onion Creek area on October 31, 2013. At least five residents were killed.
Onion Creek floodplain: The Onion Creek floodplain includes portions of southeast Austin and Travis County. Homeowners in the area suffered a major catastrophe in late October, 2013 when the region suffered massive flooding. Both the City of Austin and Travis County are engaged in efforts to buyout homeowners.