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Austin to Receive Federal Funds to Buyout Homes in Onion Creek

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News
The city of Austin has been awarded $11.8 million to buy out homes in the flood-prone Onion Creek neighborhood.

The federal government is sending $11.8 million to Travis County to help buy out homes in the flood-prone Onion Creek neighborhood.

More than 600 homes in the area were damaged or destroyed in last October’s flooding, but Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s office says the effort to buy out homes and restore the area to its natural habitat goes back to another flash flood there in 1998.

“This project has been a passion of mine since I served on the City of Austin’s Environmental Board, beginning in 1999," said Mayor Leffingwell in a statement. "However, the Halloween floods put an urgency on this project that the White House recognized. We will be able to help a lot of families with this money and these additional federal funds bring us one step closer to a safer Austin.”

The City of Austin had already spent $36.5 million on the project, including a $7.8 million FEMA grant, to relocate more than 300 homes and develop a plan to restore Onion Creek to its natural habitat. But complete funding from the federal government was stalled in budget negotiations in Congress. After the Halloween floods, the city exceeded the nearly $21 million it had for buyouts. The city says the additional funding will allow the city to continue buying out properties.

“The fact that it came after a tragedy was a factor in the consider. The fact that we’ve been out there for 16 years and sustained efforts of Mayor and not giving up on this," says Congressman Doggett.

Doggett says when Congress signed the bipartisan budget agreement, there was an understanding that the Army Corps could start one new project nationwide.

“It’s a belated start to an old need," Doggett says. "There should be a flow of federal funds in future years. It’s just a question of how much we get in the future.”

The mayor's office says the money will be in President Barack Obama's Fiscal Year 2014 work plan. Congressman Doggett says the money is likely to be available in the fall.

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