Bastrop Asks for State Aid
By Era Sundar, KUT News
Eight months ago, wildfires burned through Bastrop County, reshaping the landscape and many lives. The county received millions of dollars in aid from federal agencies and local organizations to fix roads and other infrastructure. But the county says the need is still so great, that it’s asking the state for help.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and private organizations like the Red Cross gave food, clothing and money immediately after the wildfires and for months after. The money – and interest – have dwindled. At the behest of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court, County Judge Jim Wither sent a letter to state lawmakers asking for $5 million in aid.
“We feel like they had not been here to offer their help to us,” Wither said. “But since we sent the letter, the response has picked up.”
State Senator Glenn Hegar is scheduled to tour Bastrop County in June. Representative Tim Kleinschmidt reached out to the Legislative Budget Board. He said even though the legislature is not currently in session, money could be found.
“The governor has access to a disaster-relief fund that monies could come from,” Kleinschmidt said. “Otherwise, since in essence this isn’t a budgeted item, it would probably take action by the Legislative Budget Board to move funds from another item that could be used to help pay for the losses Bastrop has suffered.”
A portion of the $5 million from the state would be used for reseeding and replanting the area of Lost Pines. This would help battle erosion, which has been one of the biggest problems since the wildfires.
Chuck Coup of the Texas Forest Service said that because so many trees burned, everything from water quality to roads has been impacted.
“We had heavier sediment loads moving through because of the erosion issues,” Coup said. “That kind of clogged up the infrastructure, which further reduced their capacity to deal with the increased runoff.”
Meantime, Bastrop is in a holding pattern while the state decides whether the money will come from the governor’s emergency fund or be taken from some other legislative budget item.
In January, the state’s General Land Office announced that a $20 million federal grant will go toward rebuilding homes in Bastrop County – eventually. A hearing scheduled for May 30 will solicit the public’s input on how to spend that money.