AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin started construction of the Little Walnut Creek flood risk reduction project over the weekend, but neighbors in the area who were negatively impacted by a flood in April think the project would not have kept their homes safe four months ago.

Ryan Albright’s home is almost completely back to normal. He and his wife spent thousands of dollars to work on cleaning up their home after massive flood damage. Their house was one of 60 that were damaged in the April 20 flood.

Albright said he was happy to have the flood risk reduction project begin to help when there are massive floods in the future, but he thinks it too would have failed in April. That’s because the flood in April was exacerbated by a massive clog of tree debris in the drainage system. Dead tree limbs and branches that were not properly cleared after the winter storm earlier this year.

Problems with tree debris continue

Albright pointed to dead trees that lined the banks of the creek behind his house to show there was still a risk of another clog in the future.

“You can see there’s clearly one here on the left side of the bank that is just arching over. Every single one of those branches is dead,” Albright explained.

He said he and his neighbors are still having trouble getting the city to come and clear the debris or cut down dead tree limbs. He said they have made multiple 311 calls and still have not seen any action taken.

“The city has still not done the one thing we asked. So, the bare minimum still not met,” Albright said.

A spokesperson with the city’s watershed department said it had received 130 service requests in the Mearns Meadow area since January. Nine of those requests were for tree removal, the spokesperson said.

The department said it continues to clear out and maintain debris along the 4.25-mile stretch of the creek. The spokesperson said the department has cleared 117 tons of debris from the creek since June and have investigated every 311 call.

The city also said the creek beds in the Mearns Meadow area are privately owned. It said in a statement, “We have access through drainage easements to remove debris and mow. Our main function within an easement is to remove debris within the channel that actively poses a flood hazard, conveyance issue, or is actively damaging infrastructure. We do not remove trees within easements, unless the tree is fallen, uprooted, unstable, or large branches are resting in the channel. Because easements are privately-owned, the property owner may perform maintenance to remove trees that are dying, invasive, or are otherwise a nuisance. Permits are required to remove certain trees.”

Albright claims some of the trees in the creek bed have been “tagged” by the city, and the homeowners are not allowed to touch them. The spokesperson said they could not confirm the source of the tags and why residents believe they cannot perform maintenance on the trees.

Will the flood risk reduction project be impacted?

The Little Walnut Creek flood risk reduction project will take 70 homes out of the 100-year floodplain, according to the city. Construction will happen in four phases along Mearns Meadow. Box culverts will be installed underneath the road which will divert storm water from the creek to run into the detention pond at Quail Creek Neighborhood park.

KXAN asked the city if the drainage system could become clogged with debris like we saw in April. A spokesperson said in a statement, “this system was designed with redundancies and to work with the inlets partially clogged. Inlets on the creek will start diverting water into the box culverts once water in the creek reaches a certain depth. There are also inlets in the street, which will help Mearns Meadow drain as well.”

Possible legal action

Neighbors in the area say they are still actively pursuing legal action against the city. The city recently denied the claims of neighbors whose homes were damaged. Neighbors continue to meet with attorneys but have not filed any legal action.