Federal Dollars Arrive for Onion Creek Buyout

Neighborhoods to return to green space

An Onion Creek home destroyed by the Oct. 31 flood
An Onion Creek home destroyed by the Oct. 31 flood (Photo by John Anderson)

A funding effort that began in 1998 finally started to see the light of day last week with federal approval of $11.8 million to buy out flood-prone homes in Onion Creek's South­east Austin neighborhoods. Hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged in an Oct. 31 flood, an event that served as an expediting force in releasing long-delayed federal dollars. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the buyout funding while committing to turn several neighborhoods along Onion Creek into green space and public recreational areas. A portion of the area already is city parkland and includes an off-leash dog park.

The city and county buyout program has been an ongoing project hampered by budget wrangles in Washington. City voters in 2006 approved bonds for the program and the city had purchased more than 320 homes and the county more than 120 more. The Oct. 31 flood prompted the city to commit additional dollars to the effort, even though it was still uncertain when, or if, the Corps would free up money for the Onion Creek project.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett kickstarted the buyout effort in 1998 in the wake of a flood that tore through Onion Creek neighborhoods. He credited then Council Member Daryl Slusher for bringing the matter to his attention at the time. Last week he credited the persistence of Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who started pushing for federal dollars during his tenure on the city's Environmental Board.

A month ago Doggett said he wasn't all that optimistic that funding would materialize. Not only did last week's developments come as a surprise, he said he was also taken aback by the amount awarded. Even $1 million would have been a blessing, he said. And the jump-start means that there will be more money to come. "The Corps of Engin­eers will ask for [funding] every year, and there should be some amount flowing for the next several years."

On a related note, Onion Creek resident Marcia Zwilling, a rancher and former president of Bluff Springs Neighborhood Association, was expected to address the Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday as the Chronicle went to press. Zwilling, who lost horses in the flood, is asking the county to designate a commercial industrial property along the creek as a priority in the buyout plan. In an email to the Chronicle, she said the industrial site contributed to the severity of flooding because of the amount of debris, heavy equipment, and building materials that blocked the normal flow of Onion Creek. Additionally, she said, 30 horses died after being struck by heavy debris from the site.

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News, Austin Halloween floods, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Lloyd Doggett, Daryl Slusher, Lee Leffingwell, Marcia Zwilling, Bluff Springs Neighborhood Association, Austin Environmental Board

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