Austin no longer plans to stabilize Shoal Creek slope from landslides


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin announced Friday morning it is changing its strategy to deal with the massive Shoal Creek landslide that occurred in May 2018. It says it now plans to shift from a strategy of slope stabilization to one of flood risk reduction.

City workers issued a memo Thursday night saying they are still trying to figure out how to fix the Shoal Creek area two years after the landslide nearly wiped out homes and destroyed the trail.

The landslide deposited rock, soil and debris in the creek and made it less effective to carry flood waters downstream. That also increased the chance of flooding on Lamar Boulevard, the city said.

Why the stabilization plan didn’t work out

“The city has absolutely acted in good faith, and the goal has not been a compromise. The goal has been a solution,” said Mike Kelly, Watershed Protection Department’s engineer.

Kelly explained, in order for the city to drill bars into the cliff to stabilize it, the city needed access to private property. Drilling also would’ve limited what the homeowners could do with their backyards.

Kelly said negotiations with the impacted homeowners didn’t work out.

The city also needed a contractor, Kelly said, who was willing to agree to the city’s insurance requirements. That meant agreeing to take on the risk and assume responsibility if something were to happen during construction.

After those two elements didn’t work out, Kelly said, “At some point when you’ve run to the end of a path on contractual and real estate negotiations, it becomes clear that the probability of getting that done is starting to shrink. That’s the off-ramp where you say let’s go back and take a look at this, make sure that we fully understand the current conditions as they are, reassess the risk and then try to see if a Plan B makes more sense because we think we can get that done.”

New plan for the creek and trail

Kelly said the city will now focus on removing the landslide debris that fell down into creek and on to a walking trail and digging and shifting the creek, so water can flow around the debris.

Right now, he said the debris in the creek is increasing the treat of flooding on Lamar Boulevard.

“If we hold the storm constant and say the same storm that would’ve happened before May 2018 happens now, then the results will be worse,” Kelly said.

The Watershed Protection Department said it expects to have a new construction plan with cost estimates some time this Spring.

Another part of those plans would include construction of a new segment of the hike-and-bike trail in that area. The trail would replace about 500 feet made impassable due to the landslide.

People who walk the trail every day told KXAN they want the trail repaired.

“It’s frustrating because this is also the off leash area, so it really limits where I can take her,” said Emily Moss. “I would love to be able to walk from one end of Shoal Creek through, without having to go on Lamar.”

Plans also include a wastewater line to replace the old one damaged by the landslide.

Heath Riddles, CEO of Pease Park Conservancy, said: “We’re generally disappointed that the trail is closed, and there’s an existing ongoing safety issue out here in the park. The conservancy’s position has been all along that we want to see safety addressed, and we want to see this trail back opened as quickly and as cost efficiently as possible.”

Kelly said they don’t believe there’s any imminent threat that more of hill will collapse.

“That’s based on an analysis that we’ve done that shows for the most part the material that has failed and is down in the creek, the large mass of it is generally stable,” he explained.

But some people remained skeptical.

“Until we can get that slope stabilized there’s going to be a safety issue,” Riddles said.

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