Bee Cave officials vote to negotiate annexation of controversial county-owned low-water crossing

A Jan. 28 special meeting of the Bee Cave City Council saw chambers filled with attendees wanting to address council regarding the annexation of a low water crossing on Great Divide Drive from Travis County.

A Jan. 28 special meeting of the Bee Cave City Council saw chambers filled with attendees wanting to address council regarding the annexation of a low water crossing on Great Divide Drive from Travis County.

Following an executive session deliberation that lasted about 90 minutes and a public comment period during which 40 Bee Cave residents addressed City Council, Bee Cave officials voted to pursue the annexation of a controversial low-water crossing, as well as an emergency access easement and early warning system on Great Divide Drive.

Council action comes in the wake of a contentious disagreement between residents of the Bee Cave neighborhood known as the Homestead and city and county officials over a Travis County-proposed bridge that would replace the low-water crossing that is right now still county-owned.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty sent out a memo Jan. 5 informing Homestead residents that they will be receiving a one-question survey about the bridge. Though results are not public, several Homestead residents have said publicly their own data gathered through grassroots canvassing show most people in the neighborhood don’t want the bridge.

Daugherty said that he doesn’t want to build anything that Homestead residents don’t want, but the option provided makes the most sense if there is to be a bridge to replace the low-water crossing due to the Atlas 14 findings. Another major reason the bridge is such a focus is because there is only one entrance and exit to the Homestead, he said.

Council called the special meeting Jan. 28 to address mounting concerns on both sides of the issue involving the proposed bridge. Though not on the official city agenda, council ended up voting unanimously to authorize Mayor Monty Parker to negotiate with Travis County about annexing the low-water crossing in conjunction with a project to extend Vail Divide.

The motion also authorizes Parker to request the county delay action on the low-water crossing while negotiations are ongoing. The council action rehashes a November 2017 request from residents for the city to annex the low-water crossing, but no action was taken then.

Parker said a critical part of the negotiation will center around the county taking over the city’s portion of the cost to build the Vail Divide extension, which has been a topic of discussion between the county, Lake Travis ISD and the city of Bee Cave for quite some time.

Depending on the results of the survey, Daugherty said he still had tentative plans to bring the bridge up for a possible vote during the upcoming the Feb. 5 Commissioners Court meeting. Given the Bee Cave vote Monday night, any further action from the county regarding the low-water crossing is now unclear.

Council Member Kara King also made a motion to direct city manager Clint Garza to negotiate an emergency access easement with neighbors of the Homestead, as well as an early warning system and barricade system for Great Divide Drive, an area that is prone to rising waters during heavy rainfall. That motion also passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Garza explained the barricade system King referred to would be like a self-closing gate for the low-water crossing.

“The early warning systems that we envision would give citizens a level of protection they don’t currently have,” Parker said. “We could have these devices in place well before any improvement to the low-water crossing was provided.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Goodwin said Parker will meet with county Judge Sarah Eckhardt possibly as early as the end of this week to try to work out the details of the negotiation.

Goodwin also said Garza will take steps, probably by the end of the week, to contact private landowners in the Homestead as well as officials from the Lake Travis Fire Rescue to come to an agreement regarding the creation of an emergency access easement.

The tone of the special meeting was more subdued than last week’s regular council meeting Jan. 22, during which a decisive majority of 22 Homestead residents spoke passionately, at times heatedly, about their opposition to the infrastructure. During that meeting most commenters stated it isn’t necessary to build something half the length of the Pennybacker Bridge on Loop 360, especially considering there have been no traffic-related injuries reported at the low-water crossing in 40 years.

But some city and county officials maintain it is time to address the matter, especially in light of new data recently issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through a historical rainfall study called Atlas 14, which has redesignated 500-year flood plains as 100-year flood plains. Among those in favor of a bridge over the low-water crossing are Parker and Bee Cave Police Chief Gary Miller.

A small contingent of commenters on Monday spoke definitively against annexation, citing safety concerns and stating the multimillion-dollar expense tied to the bridge is not a fiscal burden the city of Bee Cave should take on. But, of the 40 commenters addressing council, those sentiments remained firmly in the minority.

Taylor Guess, a Homestead resident and property owner whose land is adjacent to the low-water crossing, kicked off the public comment period requesting the annexation. Most of the more than three dozen commenters who followed did not stray from that messaging, stating city control over the low-water crossing gives all Bee Cave residents a voice in the matter.

“I am in favor of Bee Cave annexing all of Great Divide, if that is possible,” said Tom Myers, a Homestead resident for more than four decades.

Earlier this month, Daugherty said the low-water crossing has been an issue for drivers in the area at least since he was elected commissioner in 2002, and that it’s always seemed to him that most people he’s spoken to living in the Homestead don’t want to do anything about the low-water crossing. According to Daugherty, the county has left the matter alone until 2017, when a Travis County study of high-priority stream crossings and a Nov. 7 passage of a $185 million bond package put the Great Divide low-water crossing back on its agenda.

The most recent cost estimates for the bridge come in at about $6.2 million, up from an initial estimate of just over $4 million, and Daugherty said the increase is largely due to upgrades engineers think will be needed due to Atlas 14 data. He also said the current estimate is not final.
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