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


MOST RECENT

Reports surfaced Feb. 22 of dogs falling ill after swimming in Lake Travis. (Community Impact Newspaper Staff)
Blue-green algae toxic to animals found in Hudson Bend area of Lake Travis

Solid organic material was taken for testing from the edge of Travis Landing located on the east side of Hudson Bend. Those samples indicated the presence of algae and decaying algae containing cyanotoxin, which is fatal to dogs and other animals.

A new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could help expand vaccination availability in Travis County, according to local health officials. (Courtesy Pexels)
Johnson & Johnson vaccine could mean additional supply, easier distribution rollout in Travis County

If approved, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be a valuable weapon against the ongoing pandemic, according to local health officials.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

A tree's branches fell on a car in North Austin in the midst of Winter Storm Uri in February. With downed tree limbs and burst water lines causing property damage across Austin, the city has directed additional funds into programs to help some homeowners with emergency home repairs. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Still in crisis mode, Austin City Council initiates recovery following winter storm

With 200 to 400 apartment and condo complexes in Austin still without water, City Council is aiming to direct aid and relieve some of the financial burden felt by residents following the devastating winter storms.

Pet owners are advised to keep their dogs out of Lake Travis. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
UPDATE: Lake Travis water samples show no signs of toxic algae; dog owners still urged to keep pets out of water

An initial test of water samples from Lake Travis showed no signs of cyanotoxin or blue-green algae, a bacteria that is poisonous when consumed by dogs.

H-E-B will open a new location in the Oak Hill neighborhood of Southwest Austin in August. (Rendering courtesy H-E-B)
H-E-B to open in Oak Hill in Aug.; comedy club coming to The Domain and more news from February

Read business and community news from the past month from Central Texas.

Rollingwood City Council met Feb. 24 to discuss how Winter Storm Uri impacted the city's water system. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Rollingwood officials evaluate wastewater contractor following historic winter storm

“We were on the cusp of making a decision as to whether or not to cut off water service to our entire city or, alternatively, overflow our lift stations and flow raw sewage into direct channels into Lady Bird Lake,” Mayor Michael Dyson said during a Feb. 24 City Council meeting.

Jo's Coffee opened a North Austin location in January. (Courtesy Chad Wadsworth)
Jo's Coffee opens in Central Austin; new restaurant coming to Georgetown Square and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic. (Courtesy Qygen, Wikimedia Commons)
Fry's Electronics calls it quits after nearly 36 years in business

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic.

A lone runner jogs on a snow-covered road in Austin. Transportation projects across the city were briefly paused due to Winter Storm Uri. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT: Texas power system was less than 5 minutes from collapse during winter storm

ERCOT's CEO offered details into what led to the massive blackouts that left millions of Texans in the cold last week.

Photo of a snowy residential street
'Bad data is worse than no data': Austin health officials unsure how storm affected coronavirus spread

Weekly testing and hospitalization averages will not be updated by Austin Public Health until Feb. 27.