Central Texas communities draft disaster plan update

In 2011, wildfires hit the Lake Travis community hard, creating devastation in the Steiner Ranch, West Hwy. 71 and Spicewood areas. For many residents, it took a long time to get back on their feet.

Now, Travis County and local jurisdictions are giving citizens a chance to weigh in on how to best minimize future risk to the region’s people and property.

During January, planners of the regional Hazard Mitigation Action Plan update, conducted workshops to explain the project. The update is required as a precursor for Travis County and local jurisdictions to qualify for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These funds can be used for proactive projects that decrease the potential loss from a natural disaster.

The plan update project, conducted every five years, kicked off Jan. 23 with a presentation by H2O Partners Mitigation Specialist Rachel Andrews at Lakeway City Hall.

H2O Partners was hired by Travis County to conduct the plan update and solicit feedback from residents via a survey, meeting input and social media as to their experiences with the types of catastrophic events for which mitigation projects can be funded.

The group will use this information to prioritize the needs of individual communities and create a plan that will cover Travis County; Village of the Hills; and the cities of Lakeway, Manor, Pflugerville and Sunset Valley, Andrews said. The final plan must be completed by July, Andrews said.

“We consider this plan the wishlist, the wishlist of projects,” she said.

Feedback from the survey especially helps to prioritize plans against disasters that include dam failure, drought, earthquakes, extreme heat, flooding, hail, lightning, thunderstorms, wind, tornadoes, wildfires and winter storms.

Organizers will use the input to incorporate two actions per hazard into the plan to help mitigate the damage from such disasters, Andrews said. Some examples of these projects include government buyouts of homes, constructing elevations for flood-prone structures, building community safe rooms and adding tornado warning sirens, she said.

Once the plan update is approved by FEMA, individual city councils will take action to approve the document and use the plan to request grants that will fund the local safety measures, Andrews said.

Village of The Hills received a grant through FEMA that was funded in 2014 for hazard-mitigation projects, with the city contributing $25,000 and the agency offering $75,000, said Terry Browder, emergency management coordinator for Village of The Hills. He said the money was used to fund wildfire-mitigation action by Emergency Services District No. 6, which provides fire protection to the municipality.

“We raised the canopies of the trees and then cut underneath the brush,” Browder said. “What that actually does is a fire mitigation-type program because most of your fires come from the brush underneath, and then it gets up into the trees.”

He said his top concern for Village of The Hills continues to be wildfire mitigation.

“Wildfire is a big threat out here—and flooding,” said Lt. Adam Griggs, fire inspector/investigator for the wildland fuels mitigation fire prevention division of Lake Travis Fire Rescue.

He said the agency is currently applying for a grant and assisting the city of Lakeway and Village of The Hills in the acquisition of grants, specifically relating to wildfire studies and risk assessments.

“[The grants] would be for wildfire, shaded fuel breaks, fuels-reduction projects to protect these homes that back up to the greenbelt areas,” Griggs said. “It’s for our entire district, which encompasses the unincorporated areas of Travis County—Steiner Ranch, city of Lakeway, city of Bee Cave, [Village of] The Hills, much of Hamilton Pool area—about 110 square miles, roughly.”

He said he has not yet established an amount for the size of the grant being requested.


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