Home buyout along Onion Creek ramps up

Demolition crews were busy Thursday on Pinehurst Drive near Onion Creek. One house was being gutted while rubble from another was piled up and hauled away.

The properties are among ten bought-out by the City of Austin.

One house, between two vacant lots, that’s still standing is being rented by Lilla Matuska.

"I work right there, and I watched this house literally tumble. And it’s very, very, weird,” said Matuska.

Brick by brick, Matuska has watched old neighbors disappear. "And then you see the owners come and they're watching their house being torn down, so it’s kind of sad to be honest, it really is."

The Austin City Council, recently approved $25-million to buyout up to 50 homes.

That’s phase one, more money will be needed because 138 homes here have been identified as being at risk. The threat comes from Onion Creek, which Thursday was still receding from rain storms Wednesday morning. "We were fortunate, this time, that it wasn't bad, there was no flooding, but there is always that fear,” said Austin City Council member Ann Kitchen.

The District 5 council member supports the buyout program, but also wants to look at more options.

"Starting with Phase 1 buyouts doesn't preclude the potential for later, including some engineering solutions with the next set of homes,” said Kitchen.

Onion Creek winds along the edge of a golf course. There is little to nothing to stop flood waters from overflowing into nearby homes. The idea of dredging the creek, building flood walls and adding retention ponds were initially ruled out by city staff as too expensive.

Kitchen wants to revisit that conclusion. "Engineering analysis has been done, it’s really more of a question about what is the right risk to take, and looking at what the best solution is. Does it make sense to combine buy outs with things like a flood wall perhaps, clearing of the creek, those kinds of things, that’s additional conversation to have,” said Kitchen.

Kitchen wants talks to start soon but indicated there is no time table on when a decision about engineering options could be made. For now, the focus remains on scheduling moving vans and dump trucks that will continue to roll in and out of this neighborhood.

The city has been buying homes along Onion Creek since the late 90's but started ramping things up after the 2013 flood. A little more than 300 homes have been purchased so far; mainly in the lower Onion Creek zone near William Cannon and southern Pleasant Valley.

To learn more about the Onion Creek buyout project, click here.

To learn more about the Onion Creek Flood Risk Reduction Project, click here.