Fixing The Landslide On Shoal Creek Will Cost Millions. The Question Is: Who Will Pay For It?

Apr 16, 2019

City of Austin staff think they’ve found a way to move forward with plans to stabilize land along Shoal Creek after a significant landslide there about a year ago. The process is complicated by the question of who will pay for it, though.

When the landslide sent earth, trees and debris into Shoal Creek last May it destroyed 300 feet of the Hike and Bike Trail, damaged a sewage line and dammed up the creek. It also sheared off sections of private property in the posh Pemberton Heights neighborhood at the top of the hill.

(Drone footage courtesy of the Austin Watershed Protection Department)

Since then, Mike Kelly, a managing engineer with the Watershed Protection Department, says the city has been working to repair the damage and negotiating with those uphill property owners about how to proceed with a long-term fix.

“Sometimes the government is not necessarily trusted,” Kelly said. “Our initial discussions and negotiations seemed to indicate that, and it’s what held up progress for months.”

Kelly said the city agreed to use an engineering firm chosen by the landowners “to establish as much trust as possible.”

That firm presented four options to the city and landowners for how to re-stabilize the slope. Among those, city staff said it believed it found the best option. Kelly said he thinks the landowners are on board, too.  

The question of cost sharing remains. The city can pay to protect public land, health and safety. But private property owners may need to cover parts of the project that fall outside that. 

“What comes next is to sit down and meet with the property owners and make sure that it's explicit that we all agree on the alternative" stabilization plan, Kelly said. “Then the attorneys and city reps would be talking about – ‘What does an agreement look like?’”

According to a memo from the City Manager’s Office, the city has already spent more than $1 million in response to the landslide. Kelly said the property owners have also spent money, though he doesn’t have access “to their side of the ledger.”

Only after the slope is stabilized can the city work to re-open the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail and try to stop erosion linked to the landslide that is causing parts of Pease Park to disappear.

“There has been additional movement on that slope,” Kelly said. “That’s concerning.”

All told, the city estimates stabilizing the lane will cost between $8 million and $16 million. City Council will be asked to approve contracts for that project in June.

Got a tip? Email Mose at mbuchele@kut.org.