County OKs Blanco River reforestation by split vote

A $198,000 contract allowing a group to complete reforestation efforts along the Blanco River was approved by a split vote from Hays County Commissioners Tuesday.

But the move to approve funding for TreeFolks, made by a 2-1 vote with Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe voting against it, came with controversy, as some residents were concerned about using public funds to help repair private property damaged by the 2015 Memorial Day flood.

Lon Shell, Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner, said he sought to approve the measure as the county continues to craft its fiscal year 2019 budget. Shell said he understood concerns of using public dollars on private land, but advocated for restoration of the river, to preserve it for future generations.

Shell said it was also equally imperative for the county to step in and clean up debris left from the flood, and that if the county didn’t go through with it, no one would.

Clint Garza, Hays County Chief of Staff, said more than 230,000 cubic yards of debris has been removed from the banks of the Blanco River following the flood. More than 200 private landowners have been contacted regarding the county’s cleanup and reforestation efforts, with another 50 to 75 landowners left to be helped.

Garza said a scheduled delivery of 67,000 additional trees will be planted along the banks of the Blanco River this fall.

“It isn’t just about private property or public property, it’s about water quality and preserving that river for future generations,” Shell said.

Andreina Alexatos, TreeFolks reforestation manager, said the organization has spoken to over 150 landowners along the Blanco River and has brought expertise and education on how a river recovers.

Alexatos said reforestation efforts, including improving vegetation, helps to keep water from rising up on land in the event of the next flood, while also ensuring soil stays in place. Alexatos said 2018 is expected to be the final phase of TreeFolks reforestation efforts.

Planting smaller trees in enclosed spaces is also a practice they take to help the reforestation effort.

“The river has been scraped like a razor and the vegetation there is now like a band-aid on the process,” Alexatos said.

Alexatos added TreeFolks sought a decreased amount from the county than in years past; Shell said funding is two-thirds less than the original cost of past agreements.

However, Hays County resident Dan Lyons, who opposed the agreement during public comment, said it was not the county’s responsibility to look after private property owners who live along a river that was there “long before they were.”

He also believed planting new trees could be swept up by future floods. County resident Harvey Jenkins also believed the agreement was “ridiculous” and the county shouldn’t be “part and parcel to this.”

Ingalsbe said while she didn’t want to downplay the importance of the reforestation effort, and that she supported it in the past, she was concerned about TreeFolks asking the court for more funds during “an extremely tight budget year.” She also cited TreeFolks’ claim that its last agreement with the county was the last one.

Hays County Pct. 4 Ray Whisenant said he supported the measure as many of his consituents also advocated for cleanup and reforestation efforts.

“We’ve done a really good job. I think the citizens of Hays County have put their part in it,” Whisenant said. “But I’d rather finish a job and have it well done, instead of having it partially undone.”

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