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Feds Allocate $21 Million for Onion Creek Buyout

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
Maria Isabel Fabian tries to save an heirloom tablecloth salvaged from her Dove Springs home which flooded when record rains hit the Austin area on Thursday October 31, 2013.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday another $21 million for the Onion Creek area of Southeast Austin.

Some of the money will be used to buy out more homes in the floodplain.

The buy-out program includes a total of almost 500 homes and it dates back to the 1990s.

The program is a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Austin put in place to prevent a disaster. Since then, the area has flooded repeatedly.

The idea was to buy and demolish the homes built on the floodplain and to leave the space open for parks and green areas.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat from Austin, says he became involved with the program shortly after he was elected in the late 1990s, but federal authorities never funded the program.

"Getting action at all levels of government early enough unfortunately didn't happen," Doggett says.

In the years since the program started, Onion Creek has flooded several times, including 2013's destructive Halloween floods.

Mapi Vigil with the City of Austin's Watershed Protection Departmentsays the city started buying homes with its own money because it knew floods were imminent. At first the city was the only entity buying homes. Later, Travis County also pitched in. It wasn't until after the 2013 flood that federal dollars started rolling in.

"It's very important to get this money this year because we will be able to complete this project and get these people out of harm's way," Vigil says.

More than 50 homes are still waiting to be bought out and demolished.

Congressman Doggett says the $21 million puts the Army Corps closer to its original agreement from the 90s to provide $46 million. He believes in the coming years, the Army Corp will surpass that amount. He expects another $25 million will be allocated to this area.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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