Arlington council tries to address erosion issues

The city is considering relief for homeowners dealing with creek erosion in their back yards, but probably not for individual cases.

Citing legal concerns over using the stormwater drainage fee to repair individual private properties, a City Council subcommittee Tuesday appeared supportive of options that would focus on proactive creek maintenance and larger erosion projects that could resolve many homeowners’ issues all at once.

The Community and Neighborhood Development Committee also discussed moving up the city’s planned stormwater fee increase — currently set to boost water bills by 50 cents a year until it reaches $7.50 in 2021. The current $5.25 generates about $12 million annually, of which $7 million to $8 million funds capital projects, mostly for flood control.

Mandy Clark, manager of the city’s stormwater engineering operations, said speeding up the fee schedule would help.

“This is a money problem,” said Clark, who has headed erosion evaluation the past several months. “So if we had more money faster, we could do more faster.”

Councilwoman Lana Wolff, a member of the subcommittee, said she was surprised that the creek maintenance strategy is to remove fallen trees and debris after they’ve cluttered the creek beds. She is enthusiastic about the proposal for regular maintenance, including taking out damaged trees before they fall.

“I think the biggest thing is to have a unified, funded creek cleanup,” she said. “I think that sends across to the public, too, that we are addressing it.”

Torrential rains and flooding last spring only exacerbated the erosion, creating a flood of complaints that prompted the council to ask staff to determine the extent of the problem and come up with some financial options.

The numbers were preliminary but huge — about $268 million to fix all erosion problems along a combined 50 miles of Rush Creek, and $51 million for 21 miles of Johnson Creek. That accounts for half of the city’s 141 miles of natural streams.

The followup study included a look at the broader stretches of creek damage affecting multiple private properties, as well as public infrastructure like bridges and roads that are threatened. Officials said they believe that the larger projects, which they call “reaches,” create enough public benefit to qualify for the stormwater fee.

The projects could include an $8.2 million erosion repair along 6,800 feet of Johnson Creek, including a dozen private properties, between West Park Row Drive and West Pioneer Parkway.

The study also includes how other area cities handle erosion problems. Some split the costs with homeowners. Richardson requires homeowners to share the cost with the city, 50-50, up to $5,000.

But Clark said that such a requirement for Arlington residents could be financially unfair to some families who couldn’t afford that cost.

With some families, she said, “if you charge them $5,000, you might as well charge them $100,000. And we probably also have some that could write a check today,” she said.

“How do you deal with that fairness issue?”  

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7641, @Kaddmann