The Austin Chronicle

Commissioners Court: A Flood of Planning

By Kimberly Reeves, December 3, 2004, News

If good things come to those who wait, at long last that includes those residents along Onion Creek, who have been waiting years for significant flood relief. Transportation and Natural Resources Executive Manager Joe Gieselman told the Travis Co. Commissioners Court Tuesday that the release of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' flood studies on Onion Creek and the Highland Lakes is imminent. Those three-year studies will recommend a buyout of homes in the Timber Creek subdivision on Onion Creek. On the Highland Lakes, the flood level will be raised 6 feet, putting homes in places like Graveyard Point also in the buyout category.

Once the reports are released, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can apply for federal assistance, but it will require a 35% match by Travis County. Gieselman wants to roll the cost into the county's upcoming 2005 bond program. "Very soon they will be requesting financial participation for the target areas on Onion Creek and for the Timber Creek buyout," Gieselman said. "We are partners in the study. We're not driving the train, but we will be affected by it."

The reports could be out as soon as January. In the same month, commissioners can expect an update from the Southwest Travis County Growth Dialogue, which was formed to address the development issues along Hamilton Pool Road. (For more on the Hamilton Pool Road issues, see this week's cover story on p.32.) Environmentalists who have actively lobbied the Court to take broader steps in addressing water-quality issues will be pleased to note that the recommendations are expected to include the use of Senate Bill 873. SB 873, passed two sessions ago, gives counties some of the broader regulatory authority typically granted to cities. While its use has been recommended in almost every controversy the county has faced in recent months – from landfill regulation to subdivision approval – this would be the first time county commissioners would give serious consideration to expanding current regulatory powers.

The flood control studies and Hamilton Pool Road debate are part of a broader discussion of current regional planning efforts. In the coming months, Travis Co. will also have to address its priorities in a new 25-year road plan for the region, the creation of a grant program for cars that fail the region's new emissions testing, the re-appointment of members on the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and a decision on whether to continue financial support of the Envision Central Texas regional planning initiative.

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