Shoal Creek Landslide Update

February 17, 2020  | By Shoal Creek Conservancy

Shoal Creek Conservancy calls for a comprehensive solution to slope stabilization, trail obstruction, to restore access to parkland at Shoal Creek landslide site

 

Date: February 17, 2020

Contact: Ivey Kaiser, SCC Executive Director,  512-474-2412, [email protected]

Summary: Shoal Creek Conservancy urges the City of Austin to restore permanent access to the 4.5 acres of parkland along the Shoal Creek Trail at 24th-27th Streets that has been obstructed since a 2018 landslide.  

 

About the Shoal Creek Trail

Austin’s Shoal Creek Trail serves as a serene natural oasis, the site of precious native habitat, and as a vital thoroughfare for active transportation in our city’s urban trail network. Already attracting thousands of visitors each year, the Shoal Creek Trail is poised to expand its reach to even more community members in 2020: upon completion of the 5.5 mile protected bikeway along Shoal Creek Boulevard, the Shoal Creek Trail and Bikeway will provide a continuous pathway spanning downtown to Highway 183. Ultimately, the Trail will extend even further north, connecting to the Northern Walnut Creek Trail and other major destinations such as the Domain. The Shoal Creek Trail offers a bevy of delights for dog walkers, joggers, mountain bikers, bird watchers, picnickers, and more, and provides unparalleled access to nature within the urban core. 

 

Shoal Creek Landslides

Major landslides along the Shoal Creek Trail in Pease Park occurred in May 2018 and May 2019, causing significant damage to public and private property. The resulting debris has blocked the Creek and Trail from approximately 24th to 27th Street. More than a year and a half after the initial landslide event, the Creek and Trail remain blocked, and the City has not put in place a long-term solution to stabilize the slope from further failure. 

 

Restoration Efforts

In June 2019, City Council authorized the negotiation and execution of a $20 million emergency contract to stabilize the slope. In January 2020, the Watershed Protection Department (WPD) announced that the project would not move forward due to challenges with the contractor securing the required insurance and the inability to negotiate a mutually agreeable easement with impacted property owners. At this stage, WPD will instead pursue a smaller project to address the flood risk and erosion caused by the current site conditions. 

 

Additionally, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) has shared that it will be leading a process in the coming months to evaluate opportunities and constraints for developing a temporary trail on the east side of the Creek.

 

Ongoing Public Concerns & Need for Solutions

We are glad that WPD and PARD plan to address a subset of the site’s challenges. However, these plans are only the first step to addressing the public safety, connectivity, and parkland access issues posed by current conditions at the site. Short-term and long-term solutions must be identified to address five major concerns of public interest: 

 

  1. Continuing threat of another landslide event presented by the unstabilized cliffside.
  2. Loss of trail system connectivity in our citywide active transportation network. 
  3. Lack of access to approximately 4.5 acres of parkland where park users are directed to detour around the landslide site. 
  4. Flood risk due to landslide debris blocking the Creek. 
  5. Rapid erosion of the Creek’s eastern bank, caused by landslide debris rerouting the Creek flow. 

 

The City must put in place a plan to permanently stabilize the slope and restore access to the parkland currently blocked by the debris. Since this may be a long-term process, the City should enact immediate improvements to make the area usable in the meantime. 

 

Immediate improvements needed:

  1. Address increased flood risk and stabilize Shoal Creek’s eastern bank (already planned as part of WPD’s upcoming project).
  2. Transform the informal trail on the eastern side of Shoal Creek into a fully functional interim trail.
  3. Implement robust directional signage to direct trail users to the eastern detour and restore trail connectivity.

 

Long-term improvements needed: 

  1. Permanent stabilization of the cliffside
  2. Restoration of the Trail on west side of Shoal Creek
  3. Habitat restoration on stabilized cliffside

 

Furthermore, it is notable and concerning that legal obstacles around insurance, liability, and indemnification prevented a swift resolution to this urgent public safety issue. The City should critically examine its current practices and requirements that posed a barrier to addressing this acute failure of public infrastructure.

 

Next Steps for SCC

SCC will continue to advocate for timely restoration of safety, access, and connectivity. We plan to work closely with City Council and City of Austin staff to define a path forward, and will continue to share updates as progress is made. As always, we welcome questions and feedback from the community. Please reach out to Ivey Kaiser, Executive Director, at [email protected] or 512-474-2412.