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Onion Creek residents voice desperation over flooding

Thursday, October 27, 2016 by Jack Craver

Flood-battered residents voiced despair over the future and frustration with City Hall at a Tuesday night forum at the Onion Creek Club featuring Mayor Steve Adler and City Council members Ann Kitchen and Delia Garza.

“We feel like we’re trapped here,” said one man in the crowd of over 100, explaining that he and his wife own a home that has been flooded so many times that it is no longer insurable. Their attempts to sell the home have also been in vain.

“Are we going to end up with the total loss of our homes?” he asked, speaking for himself and his neighbors.

The elected officials conceded that they could not easily assuage the residents’ concerns about flooding. The topic took up an entire Q&A session following a moderated forum that covered affordability, the city budget and the upcoming transportation bond election, in addition to flooding.

They also encouraged people to attend another forum on Nov. 15 that will be held by the Watershed Protection Department, at which city staff will brief residents on updated floodplain maps for Onion Creek as well as discuss ways to reduce flooding in the future.

“What you’re describing has become part of the conversation that as a Council we’re having on the dais,” Adler assured the crowd.

If there were an easy solution that he could concoct simply by a “snap of the fingers” he would do it, said Adler, stressing his empathy for Onion Creek homeowners, who he said had been hit with three “100-year floods” in the past five years.

Instead, he said, the city’s ability to help homeowners who find themselves in what are now considered volatile flood zones is based on whether it can raise the “vast sums of money” necessary to either buy people out of their homes or find another similarly expensive solution to protect vulnerable neighborhoods from flooding.

In the meantime, explained Kitchen, the city needs to engage with other governing authorities, including Travis County and Hays County, to develop a regional approach to flood mitigation on Onion Creek. State Reps. Eddie Rodriguez, a Democrat who represents much of East Austin, and Paul Workman, a Republican who represents much of western Travis County, are considering moving a bill focused on flood control, potentially through the creation of a flood control district.

“I want to make sure you understand this has been one of our very top priorities,” said Kitchen, who represents much of the Onion Creek neighborhood, referring to Council.

She further touted the $29 million included in the budget Council approved last month that will fund some of the Flood Mitigation Task Force recommendations, which came out in May. Among other things, that money will fund eight new Watershed Protection Department employees who will focus on waterway infrastructure and maintenance.

A number of residents stood up to say that the city needed to do much, much more. One man began his comments by noting that he was proud to support Proposition 1, the $720 million transportation bond that South Austin Neighborhood Alliance President Ken Jacob earlier suggested had drawn vociferous pushback in South Austin. But in return for having Adler’s back on that measure, he said he hoped the mayor would push for a major bond to address flooding.

Others in attendance voiced concerns about development in the area, suggesting that whatever efforts the city undertakes to mitigate flooding could be undermined by additional impervious cover.

Photo by Tim Moreillon made available through a Creative Commons license.

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