Monday, April 8, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Public expresses concern about Urban Trails causing erosion

In 2014, the city of Austin approved an Urban Trails Master Plan that laid out the path forward to construct 300 miles of non-motorized trails throughout the city. Five years later, construction is well underway, but community members have raised some concerns about the environmental impacts of one of the trails on the east side that is only partially constructed.

Dorsey Twidwell came to the April 3 meeting of the Environmental Commission to inform commissioners that there has been a “lack of transparency for the whole community” as the Public Works Department works on completing the Northern Walnut Creek Trail. In particular, he and other neighbors who attended the meeting were concerned about the construction of a bridge near a utility easement on the trail that they feared would compound flooding and erosion issues in the area. The bridge would span rimrock, a critical environmental feature that will require a variance.

Genest Landry, a project manager with the city’s Urban Trails Program, assured commissioners and community members that the department is in the process of redoing the hydraulic study in order to incorporate new data from Atlas 14 as well as redoing a tree survey and addressing public comments made in 2017.

“We were missing some environmental features that we wanted to make sure our trail was avoiding,” she explained. The trail as it is currently laid out spans five critical environmental features.

Additionally, Janae Spence, the division manager for Public Works’ Community Services Division, explained that because the project has been on hold due to a lack of funding, it just recently recommenced. Since the design is just now at 60 percent completion, city staff has not gone back for a public meeting. It is Public Works Department policy that they return to the community for public input at the completion of 60 percent design. She noted for the benefit of community members in attendance that meeting before that point would not be beneficial as there are too many changes that occur in earlier design stages.

As they prepare to present their plans publicly, Commissioner Pam Thompson suggested that in addition to giving the community a detailed project update, the Public Works Department invite those who are able and willing to walk the proposed 1.67-mile trail route so they can more fully grasp the construction plan and ask questions on-site. She also asked if the Environmental Commission would be invited along for the tour.

City staff members were amenable to the idea of inviting interested parties out to walk the route when the plans are ready to be presented to the public. As of now, there is no set date for a full presentation of the project design as staff is still waiting to receive the new tree survey and hydraulic study.

Photo by Joho35mm at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

Urban Trails Master Plan: The plan for walking and biking trails in the Austin area.

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