Options to accelerate wildfire prevention work prove too costly

City of Lakeway emblem
Lakeway City Council discussed wildfire prevention at its Dec. 7 meeting. (Community Impact Staff)

Lakeway City Council discussed wildfire prevention at its Dec. 7 meeting. (Community Impact Staff)

Lakeway City Council on Dec. 7 decided not to hire private contractors to assist in the removal of brush and other natural debris from a 75-acre area of the Hamilton Greenbelt.

The work underway is part of a larger Lakeway wildfire-prevention effort that received closer attention by the city beginning in 2019 and received specific funding of $350,000 for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

High estimated cost of using private contractors was the main reason City Council members took no action to put private contractors to work on the job, according to city documents. Bids from potential contractors projected labor costs to be about three times the cost from Lake Travis Fire Rescue, which is currently managing the fire mitigation work in the greenbelt.

Due to precautions made necessary from the COVID-19 pandemic, LTFR has worked with crews at 20%-25% capacity for the majority of the time work took place in 2020.

“We’ve been hit hard with COVID,” LTFR Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Chris Rea said. “[We are] not making excuses, but this is reality at this point.”

Work in the Hamilton Greenbelt is complete on 12 acres, roughly 16% of the overall project, at a cost of $58,025, according to a report given Dec. 7 to City Council from Rea. Original estimates had the initial phase of the project, amounting to 35 acres, wrapping up in November, according to city documents. The slower-than-expected pace of work is what led the city to take solicitations from private contractors.

Lakeway Mayor Sandy Cox said during the council meeting that wildfire mitigation remains a top priority and said council and city staff should look for creative ways to add more headcount to work crews.

The city is spending funds for the overall project in two phases, with the most difficult work to come in the latter half of 2021. Part of the challenge next year comes from a limited window in which work can be done in portions of the greenbelt.

Specifically, work can only take place in sensitive areas from September 2021 to the following March due to rules designed to protect the habitat of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department website states that the bird nests only in Texas mixed Ashe juniper and oak woodlands.
By Greg Perliski
Greg edits Community Impact Newspaper's Lakeway/Lake Travis and Northwest Austin editions. During the course of his diverse career, he has written for newspapers, online publications and corporate communications teams. He earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin. You can reach him at gperliski@communityimpact.com


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