City in line for flood buyout reimbursements from Corps of Engineers
Wednesday, June 25, 2014 by Michael Kanin
Austin City Council members got a bit of good news with regard to buyouts in the Onion Creek floodplain. The city’s governmental relations officer, John Hrncir, told Council members during Tuesday’s work session that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was likely to reimburse the city for the costs of the program dating as far back as 1999.
“Right now, the Corps is telling us that they expect us to be reimbursed…for those homes that we have purchased that are within the buyout area,” he said.
However, he was measured about the city immediately applying for funds based on a pending $35.5 million buyout pitched as part of a larger plan to cover all homes in the 25- and 100-year Onion Creek floodplain.
“We brought up the issue of possibly expanding the project to include the new data from the most recent flood and we were advised not to attempt to do that until we had reached the agreement we were working on – do that first and then see what it would take to expand the project,” Hrncir added.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Hrncir broke down his view for the Monitor. When asked if he saw any negative impact from future reimbursements, Hrncir was frank. “Not at the moment,” he said. “But nothing is certain until the Corps has agreed to it…What we’re hearing now is that we will be reimbursed for the properties that we have purchased that are within the project as defined by the Corps.”
Hrncir noted that the city has bought “300 of those homes already.”
Federal funds at stake include up to $12 million, a portion of which would be shared with Travis County.
In the wake of devastating floods that hit the region on Halloween 2013, Council Member Mike Martinez had pitched an ambitious plan to purchase homes in the 25 and 100-year Onion Creek floodplain as well as in the Williamson Creek floodplain. Costs associated with the full version of that plan were put at as much as $100 million.
Martinez’ plan was attached to a proposal that would have used city-issued Certificates of Obligation to help fund the program. Certificates of Obligation are debt instruments that are not subject to voter approval.
Under Martinez’ plan, the city would finance the program through a monthly 75-cent increase in drainage fees.
Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole also produced a more conservative version of a buyout plan.
Council members ultimately approved Martinez’ plan 6-1. Mayor Lee Leffingwell was the lone ‘no.’
At the time, Martinez noted that the city could proceed with $35.5 million worth of 25-year flood plain buyouts without the new certificates. Debt has already been issued that will cover those costs.
Tuesday’s discussion focused on that portion of the effort.
With the Corps evidently prepared to reimburse the city for expenses it has already incurred as part of buyouts, Martinez wondered if the money received from the Corps for this batch of buyouts could be put back into the city’s program. Staff confirmed that this was the case.
Council will formally vote on the matter Thursday.
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