Lawmakers offer flood disaster aid

Connie Swinney/Burnet Bulletin
State and federal lawmakers descended on the Highland Lakes Wednesday, Oct. 17 to assess damage and infrastructure issues, including a collapsed RM 2900 Bridge in Kingsland, in the wake of the Llano River flooding into Llano and Burnet Counties. Pictured from left to right are Burnet County Judge James Oakley, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Llano County Pct. 1 Commissioner Peter Jones, Llano County Judge Mary Cunningham, State Rep. Terry Wilson and Burnet County Pct. 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery.







By Connie Swinney

Staff Writer

Burnet Bulletin

When Kingsland resident Brenda Dalton turned on her water faucet Oct. 17, nothing came out.

“I had no water. Whenever we got water, we got a trickle,” she said, referring to the home she shares with her seven-year-old daughter Joli on River Oaks Drive.

“I went to the Baptist Church and they gave me bottled water,” she said. “We brushed our teeth with bottled water this morning.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, the Kingsland Water Supply Corporation issued a boil water notice for the Kingsland community. Pump stations, fed from Lake LBJ, failed as historic-level flood waters from the Llano River slammed into the Kingsland area. As of Oct. 22, the community was still required to boil water for consumption.

Aside from the runoff which surged into homes in that community, flood water also coursed into lakeside communities including Channel Oaks, Highland Haven, Horseshoe Bay, Granite Shoals and Marble Falls.

“Everything on the inside is a total loss,” said Karen Naumann, who has owns a property in the 900 block of Scenic Loop.

The Kingsland-area neighborhood is best known for sitting at the base of the Scenic Overlook (Lookout Mountain) on Lake LBJ.

“We've owned that house since the early 70s. It was my mom's house,” Naumann said. “We only had three feet of water in the house in 1997,” she said, referring to the previous flood event. “This time it was a horrible mess. This is ten times worse.”

Overnight flooding prompted temporary evacuations of thousands of Burnet and Llano county residents in the Meadowlakes, Granite Shoals and Marble Falls communities, as well as the Kingsland area.

The Lower Colorado River Authority opened all floodgates at Wirtz Dam on Lake LBJ and Max Starcke Dam downstream of Marble Falls to quell the surge.

As a result of flood-damaged water plant equipment, Marble Falls enacted a boil water notice and stage 5 water restrictions to limit water use for essential purposes only. The notice shuttered several restaurants and stores as a result. The city lifted the boil water notice on Oct. 20.

Flood waters gutted foundations of a number of homes, which could face condemnation, along Lake Marble Falls. School districts including Marble Falls and Llano cancelled classes for two days and then requested parents send children to schools with bottled water.

Due to the severity of the damage, family displacements and infrastructure issues, state and federal lawmakers launched into action with aid for Highland Lakes communities.

On Oct. 16, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a disaster declaration for 18 Texas counties. The counties include Burnet, Llano and Mason as well as Bastrop, Colorado, Fayette, Hood, Jim Wells, Kerr, Kimble, La Salle, Live Oak, McMullen, Nueces, Real, San Patricio, Travis and Williamson.

State officials vowed “available resources of state government and of political subdivisions to aid in response efforts.”

"Texas is taking immediate action to respond to the threat of recent severe weather and flooding across the state,” Abbott said in a statement. “We have made available all necessary resources to respond as quickly and effectively as possible to this disaster, and to assist those in harm’s way.”

On Oct. 17, lawmakers descended on the Highland Lakes pledging support and touring the most severe flood-damaged areas.

U.S. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, along with other officials, met with Marble Falls Police Department Office of Emergency Management team and toured Marble Falls and Meadowlakes prior to making a final stop in Kingsland at the site of the collapsed Ranch to Market Road 2900 Bridge.

“In the wake of Hurricane Harvey disaster relief response, in working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the entire delegation, we've seen a unity, really a bi-partisan delegation focusing on relief from that disaster,” Cruz said. “It's true in that disaster or this storm here, we want to rebuild in a way that's is more resistant to flooding; that is stronger and can withstand more.”

Burnet County Judge James Oakley addressed the role of the Texas Department of Transportation on replacing the bridge, which connects the Kingsland area to Texas 71 and communities to the southeast of the area such as Sunrise Beach, Ridge Harbor and Horseshoe Bay.

“We need to let the waters recede . . . It's too early to have an answer on that,” Oakley said. “It was designed and built in 1969. It was built to survive a 50-year flood.

“That worked out about right,” Oakley added. “To me, we need to up the ante a bit . . . They'll either fix what's broken or come in with a bigger, better (bridge).”

Dalton, who lives about a mile from the RM 2900 Bridge, watched as lawmakers shared information.

She said the collapsed structure changed the way she commuted a family members home in Burnet County at the height of the flooding.

“Normally it's a 10 to 15 minute drive, and it took us about an hour and a half to get there because (RR 1431) was closed down because of the flood (Oct. 16),” she said.

Emergency first response could be affected by the missing structure.

“Having redundant bridges is a big deal. We'll continue to respond. We already work with Llano County in some of these areas,” Marble Falls Area EMS Executive Director Johnny Campbell said. “We're going to take care of Sunrise Beach and some other areas. We'll move forward and still provide the same level of service, so bear with us.”

Llano County Judge Mary Cunningham added, “While it will be a big inconvenience for some time, and it will slow down some of the rides, they do think they will have to divert more people back to the Llano hospital. We need the bridge as quickly as you can get it.”

In the meantime, residents, churches and local officials have come to the aid of their neighbors to offer resources and clear away the mess.

“All of the neighbors have pitched in and helped each other,” she said. “It's been wonderful to have the help, especially when the real bad part hit.”

As State Sen. Dawn Buckingham toured the devastation, she offered comforting words and a word of caution about a potential larger impact from the storms.

“I'm worried that we're going to have more flooding, the water is going to be back up. Across the district, we have several rivers out of their banks already,” Buckingham said “It's devastating, and my heart goes out to all these people who are suffering through this.”

Other assistance included Burnet County public safety clean up crews delivering trash bins and hauling away potential contaminants to protect public health. The city of Marble Falls also extended an emergency disaster declaration through Nov. 6.

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, who also visited with residents, added, “It's going to be a wonderful thing to rebuild this community and get it going again. Things will be better.”

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