Travis County may look to buy out flood-prone neighborhoods

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TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Months after flood waters ripped through southeast Travis County — twice — officials are trying to figure out why the damage was so much more destructive this time. A study is underway to do that in the Thoroughbred Farms neighborhood, and whatever it uncovers will impact the future of the people who call it home.

Steve Manilla, County Executive for Transportation and Natural Resources, says consultants will be looking at any changes in topography in the area as well as changes in drainage patterns. He says they’re using hydraulic models, as well as interviewing homeowners on the ground.

“The analysis — that’s why we’re going that route. Take out the guesswork on it and you let the math do the talking really,” said Manilla.

Once the study is presented to county commissioners, they’ll go with one of two options: making structural changes in the area or buying out homes.

“It’s probably going to be driven more by cost. Improvements are very costly and at some point you cross the line where buying out is cheaper, moving folks to another location,” said Manilla.

He says structural changes could include things like creating dikes, channels or large retention ponds.

Kristina Smith lives in Thoroughbred Farms and says a buyout is out of the question for her. After the first flood in October, she invested in elevating her home four feet higher than the county recommended. The decision to do that kept her home dry during the second flood in May.

“After my blood, sweat and tears, my family, my friends, there’s been so much work for me and I think everyone else in neighborhood, that it would take a lot for us to leave our homes after putting that much into it.”

Smith says had a buyout been offered immediately after the flood, that would be a different story. But months later her home is nearly finished, and it hasn’t been without tears.

“The process has been extremely difficult,” said Smith. “I’ve cried on the phone and been extremely confused and not understood it very well, muddled my way through it.”

Manilla says the study should be completed September 22 and will be presented to county commissioners. Whatever is decided, the next question will be how to pay for it. The commissioners could include something in their budget, which is due on Sept. 30. Or, they could let voters decide, putting it on a bond referendum that would likely happen in 2017.

Those who want to stay say they’ll continue to wait and hope for the best.

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