As North Acres Wastewater Annexation Project Nears Completion, Street Conditions Present Conundrum for Team

Sometimes unexpected circumstances put projects in what seems like a no-win situation, with no choice but to choose the lesser of two undesirable options. The key is to communicate openly, frequently and accurately to affected stakeholders. In other words, we have to plough through using best practices to achieve informed consent. It isn’t always comfortable, but if we practice with integrity and forthrightness, we’ve done our job.

Such is the case with the North Acres Wastewater Annexation Project in northeast Austin. Neighbors were thrilled when the project team announced that repaving of streets on the south side of the subdivision would begin. Plans were to mill and overlay each street from curb to curb. But when the contractor began preliminary work to prepare the roads for milling, it was clear that the streets had little or no subsurface to deal with. That meant milling, which is the standard practice, would not be possible and the only options were to rebuild the streets from scratch (for which there were not enough funds in the project budget) or simply overlay the existing pavement with a layer of asphalt.

The resulting overlay reduced the depth of the curbs substantially in some places, and there was an immediate outcry from residents concerned about the both aesthetic outcome and the increased possibility of flooding. When the next big rain event created near-flooding conditions in a few spots, the team brought Watershed in to help find solutions.

The team, along with a representative from Watershed, attended a special neighborhood meeting to answer questions and update residents on the developing situation. They informed the group that if the remaining streets to be paved had the same substandard base, they would not do the overlay. Instead, they would have to do trench repair, so that the curbs and gutters would remain uncompromised. Needless to say, this prompted an outcry from residents of those streets, and the team had to explain that it was a choice between a less visually homogenous, but sound and smooth road versus the possibility of increased flooding.

Two weeks later, an even bigger rain event happened. And this time several homes were flooded. At a neighborhood meeting that week, neighbors wanted to know what would be done to prevent future flooding and when it would be done. Unfortunately, the team still had no clear answers. That meeting could have easily gotten out of hand, but it didn’t. And here’s why: 1) We began the presentation by acknowledging the severity of the situation and demonstrated sincere empathy for those who had flooding, 2) We listened to people’s complaints and let them vent, 3) We acknowledged that while we still had no permanent solution,  we promised to implement short-term measures immediately, 4) We promised to keep them informed of any developments in devising a long-term solution and 5) We wrote down any questions that could not be answered immediately, along with contact information, and provided answers within the week. The result was a meeting that ended with acceptance on the part of the residents that the project team was operating in good faith, doing its best to alleviate the situation and sincerely had the neighborhood’s best interests in mind.