Friday, April 30, 2010

City Plans Major Project for Neighborhood Greenbelt

The city's Watershed Protection department has proposed a major project that will alter the environment on the Willowbrook Reach, our large neighborhood greenbelt that snakes along the Upper Boggy Creek from Cherrywood Rd. to 38 1/2 Street.

The Reach is beloved by neighbors, herons, turtles, frogs, butterflies and many more. The property is home to over 100 trees, wildflowers (many blooming now), fossils, yellow-crowned night herons, Coopers hawks, and myriad other birds, insects, fish and amphibians. It's also where we neighbors go to walk our dogs, run for exercise, and generally find relief from our urban environment. It's an oasis, and if you haven't discovered it yet, I highly recommend walking down and checking it out.

Mike Kelly, project leader with the Watershed department, says that his department assessed conditions at the Reach 8 or 9 years ago. At the time, they found our greenbelt with steeply eroding banks, exposed water and wastewater lines, and potential flooding dangers, among other issues. That assessment formed the basis for funding that was approved by City of Austin voters in the 2006 Bond Election for projects on the Upper Boggy Creek, including the Willowbrook Reach.

The City has now been working on the project for 3 years with contracted engineers and landscape architects. The Friends and Lovers of Willowbrook Reach (FLWR) recently learned that the design phase of the Watershed project is now 90% complete.

The current City plan proposes to regrade the banks of the creek to a gentler slope and realign the flow of the water. As a result of that regrading and realignment, the City will have to remove almost all trees - from large mature pecans to small willows - within the creek bed and an area just surrounding the creek. Trees and plantings further from the creek and nearer the streets will be left alone. Some steeper creek banks may be left intact in the plan, but they are likely to be reinforced to prevent erosion. Some portions of the creek bed will be raised and new riffles and pools will be created. Plans call for replanting the area with native and non-invasive trees and perennials, and for installing several rainwater swales planted with perennials in an effort to filter runoff. It is probable that most wildlife will be displaced and may keep a clear distance from the greenbelt for at least a year or two, if not longer. The regrading and realignment will also result in two exposed wastewater pipes becoming unexposed.*

The city expects to start digging in March 2011.

One of the problems with all of this is that these plans have has come to 90% completion without the input of the Cherrywood Neighborhood at large. Many of you may be hearing about this for the first time. Thus, members of the Cherrywood Neighborhood Association and FLWR have requested that the City put a hold on its project until they can present their ideas to the Cherrywood Neighborhood.

As of this writing, Mike Kelly has agreed to place a temporary hold on the project, to step back and re-approach. He and his team will be re-assessing the condition of the Reach over the next week or two. He says that conditions along the greenbelt have changed since their initial assessment years ago, and that it's possible that their current plan needs revising. We believe that this reassessment must include neighborhood input. This is a huge project, and it's imperative that ALL neighbors have a say in its direction.

Neighbors, this project could change the Willowbrook Reach greenbelt forever. We at FLWR urge you to become involved in the process and will be updating the neighborhood at the May CNA Quarterly Meeting.

For further information about the Watershed project, please contact the project mangers: George Walker (974-3376, george.walker@ci.austin.tx.us) and Christina Calvery (974-7094, christina.calvery@ci.austin.tx.us).

If you would like to become involved with the Friends and Lovers of Willowbrook Reach (FLWR), email flwr78722@gmail.comor find us at the upcoming CNA Quarterly!

* There is a third exposed pipe in the creek that is a water supply pipe. That pipe will be dysfunctional and removed after a water pipe replacement project along Sycamore St. Note that the Austin Water Utility project along Sycamore is not the same as the Watershed project described here. The orange fencing you will see go up at the Reach this month is to protect the property from the water pipe project along Sycamore. The water pipe project is expected to be complete this July 2010.

3 comments:

Stephen said...

May 1st 2010- Many trees at the reach have blue and white ribbons around them. Does anyone know what this means?

Anonymous said...

Stephen, thanks for noticing. Members of FLWR (Friends and Lovers of Willowbrook Reach) have been studying the plans published in July, 2009, by the City Watershed Division to regrade and realign the Creek, and have taped the trees that correspond to those which the City plans to REMOVE COMPLETELY with this project. We're hoping this blue and white striped tape helps us all become more aware of the scope and depth of this project. When we get more current plans from the City, we will adjust the taping for any changes.

In addition to those trees on the banks which have been taped, ALL the trees which are growing completely in the creekbed itself will be removed. We ran out of tape and could not reach all of those in the water. We are still working to correlate all the trees on the City's project plans with those on the ground.

The Watershed Division plans to replace many trees with native ones, but they will be small trees, and placed away from the re-contoured creekbed itself. It will take decades for new trees to reach the size of those removed.

We're hoping everyone who cares about the Reach will take notice of how this project will affect the look and use of the Reach, for years to come. Please learn more about the project, and attend the May CNA Quarterly meeting.

Plainsong said...

Some info on the May CNA Quarterly meeting would be helpful! Like when and where?