Buyout anxiety rises for flooded Williamson Creek homeowners

Volunteer posts a City Flood Open House poster at Perez Elementary in the Onion Creek community, July 10th 2014. (Robert Maxwell, KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – South Austin homeowners whose properties were ruined in the Oct 31st floods know their fate. The City of Austin will buy out 160 of them.

For 140 more in the Lower Onion Creek watershed, the scenario may play out in a similar fashion after the City’s Watershed Protection Department recently asked City managers to use existing and future budget money to fund a second proposal.

But 70 others whose homes were flooded by nearby Williamson Creek are holding their breath, hoping the buyout initiative extends to their community.

“I just retired. I thought I had my life in order,” former 4th grade teacher Nell Reinap told KXAN’s Robert Maxwell at this week’s Austin Flood Open House. “I knew what I was going to do. And now I have a whole new issue on what am I going to do, where am I going to go? How long am I going to wait?”

Future Flood Recovery Open House Dates

  • Saturday, July 12 12:30-4 p.m.
  • Monday, July 14 5:30-9 p.m.

All open houses are held at Perez Elementary school, 7500 S. Pleasant Valley Road..

Council Member Mike Martinez put forth the idea in April to buy out homes in the 25-year floodplain of which Williamson Creek is a part. Watershed Protection staff plan to submit the request as part of the Department’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget now being considered by management staff.

A Department staff memo obtained by KXAN speculates there’s a chance Council will request the budget item go to a bond election – possibly this November.

The memo spells out the Williamson Creek watershed is the no. two regional priority for the Creek Flood Hazard Mitigation mission after lower Onion Creek.

After attending the city’s first of three Flood Recovery Open Houses, Reinap said she wants to sell her house. But she says the expected buy out value is $10-20,000 more than what the current market might offer and includes legal costs. City staff told her she might have to wait years for the buyout fund to be available.

Then there’s the ethical issue of selling a home to someone who has never experienced a flood. Reinap has been through two now, the first in 1998 in which she lost valuable photos and other mementos.

“I (just) went online,” she said. “I’ve had emails and calls ever since then from realtors who want to help me sell my house. And now do I ethically hold onto my house and see what’s going to happen?”

Emotionally, Reinap has called the address home since buying it in the late 1970s. Selling it now would represent a major life change.

Council is expected to bring up the Martinez proposal at its September meeting. The Watershed Dept. memo suggests regardless of what happens politically, solutions were already being planned prior to the 2013 flood to refine the buyout list for FY 2017 and a recent published list is not a definitive list.

The undated memo, attributed to no one staff member concludes ‘We are aware the flooding problems in the Williamson (Creek) watershed are more extensive than just the properties included in the Martinez proposal. The long-term mitigation goal is to address all the flood hazards.’

Other than buyouts, Council could decide to exercise the City’s legal right to eminent domain as a less costly option. In that scenario, homeowners would be given an offer near market value for their properties.

Already, Watershed staff are being proactive and have approached three homeowners in the Williamson Creek area with buyout offers funded by other savings from Regional Stormwater Management projects in the watershed, the staff memo showed.

KXAN’s Natalie Stoll earlier reported between 1999 and October 2013, the city purchased 323 homes within the US Army Corps of Engineers study buyout area. The money for those buyouts came from FEMA, drainage utility fees and a bond voters approved in 2006.

williamson creek flood buyout map
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