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Austin backs off plans to stabilize Shoal Creek slope after impasse with landowners

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 by Mose Buchele, KUT

The city is abandoning efforts to stabilize a part of the cliff that runs along the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail near Pease Park after landowners up the hill refused to grant property easements needed for the work.

Heavy rain in May 2018 caused a significant landslide on the cliff. The backyards of four homes in the Pemberton Heights neighborhood were sheared off, toppling power lines and sending trees and debris down into the creek. About 300 feet of the trail was destroyed, with pavement buckling in some spots and sliding into the creek. Before repairing the damage, the city wanted to reinforce the cliff to make sure another landslide didn’t happen.

The city had been negotiating with residents for months on a long-term fix. On Friday, the city said the contractor tapped for the job won’t do it, citing concerns over insurance.

“Trying to find a solution I don’t think is ever a waste of time,” said Mike Kelly, a managing engineer with Austin’s Watershed Protection Department who has been working on the project. “What’s key is knowing when you have to take some necessary off ramps in order to get some solution done.”

The city said it has spent more than $715,000 dealing with the landslide.

Debris in the creek creates a greater risk for flooding. Kelly said the city would shift focus on trying to reduce that risk as much as possible. But without the cliff stabilized, he said, flood risk will remain greater than it was before the landslide.

The inability to reinforce the cliff also means the trail between 24th and 25th streets may not be reopened.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT.

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