Damage from the Halloween floods in Austin and the surrounding areas will top $14.4 million, officials said Tuesday in a presentation to Travis County commissioners.
But as staggering at the cost may be, it’s nowhere near the $35 million threshold for local governments to get federal disaster assistance.
“We’re not even halfway there,” Travis County emergency management coordinator Pete Baldwin said in an interview. “The odds of us getting to the $35 million are slim.”
The $14.4 million in Travis County damage, a preliminary estimate that can be changed through the end of the month, includes damage in Austin and Pflugerville as well as uninsured and underinsured home and business damage, Baldwin said. Even with the $1 million in damage reported by Hays County last week, the total damage is still far short of federal requirements.
While federal money is unlikely to come to governments, many homeowners may see up to $32,000 in so-called “individual assistance” from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, Baldwin said. The individual grants are available under less catastrophic circumstances than the federal disaster aid to local governments.
“This is really discouraging, y’all,” Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said, explaining his frustration with federal money going to overseas disasters but likely not coming to Travis County after the floods killed six people and damaged or destroyed nearly 800 homes in Central Texas.
After hosting a pair of open houses last week on possible buyouts of flood-prone properties, county officials said they have received 45 applications from homeowners wanting to sell. Except for a home on Graveyard Point on Lake Travis, a location not likely to flood during an ongoing drought that has left the lake 55 feet below full, those homes are estimated to cost a total $6.5 million to buy, said Stacey Scheffel, the county’s floodplain administrator.
The county has $2.4 million to spend on the buyouts and may be able to find another $4 million in leftover funding from previous voter-approved bond issuances, said Steve Manilla, the county’s transportation and natural resources executive. Manilla said staffers prefer the county first finish buying out properties in Timber Creek, a mobile home subdivision that was largely underwater during the Halloween floods and where the county has already bought out 121 flood-prone properties.
Commissioners Gerald Daugherty and Margaret Gómez plan to report back in two weeks on other potential funding sources.
“We need to come up with something so that we don’t leave these people hanging,” Gómez said. “If you go down and see the effect of those floods, I don’t see how you can walk away and not think it was ground zero for some kind of war.”
Manilla said some homeowners have been reluctant to sell their homes to the county in the past and commissioners may need to consider using eminent domain, the practice where government forces residents to sell their property.
“I believe it is a tool we may need to use for this purpose,” Manilla said.
County officials also reported upwards of $1 million in damage to Richard Moya Park, wedged between Onion Creek and Burleson Road in southeast Travis County, which was completely under water at the peak of the flooding. Other parks, roads and green spaces projects and county structures suffered about $700,000 of damage.
The county will take $1 million out of a $8.9 million fund for “catastrophic” losses to help pay for some of those repairs.