By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Reports of flood damage from Hurricane Harvey are starting to make their way around social media. As expected, some of the communities hit hard by Harvey include residential developments with private access roads funded by a homeowner association.
One of those communities is Sand Hills, in Bastrop County, along the Colorado River near Red Rock, Texas. KXAN reports that 30 families have been stranded in their homes, because a bridge that crosses a creek has been washed away by flood waters. That bridge happened to be an integral part of the one and only private access road to Sand Hills.
Homeowner John Livingston reports that the bridge has already been repaired once in 2015, at a cost of $20,000. Because the road leading into the McElwreath development in Sand Hills is private, homeowners had to pay out-of-pocket for those repairs. Assuming 30 homes, that amounts to roughly $667 per household. Quite obviously, the repair was inadequate.
Now Livingston estimates it will cost more than $50,000 to rebuild the bridge entirely. Splitting the cost among 30 homes, that amounts to $1,667 per household. However, some residents may find it difficult to come up with their share of the cash, especially senior citizens and disabled residents.
Because the community’s road is privately owned, FEMA will not provide cash assistance. Bastrop County has offered $10,000, according to KXAN report (see transcript). The community has also set up a GoFundMe Page, and has so far raised a little more than $6,000.
Crumbling bridge leaves dozens in Bastrop County stranded after Harvey
By Alyssa Goard
Published: August 29, 2017, 12:13 am Updated: August 29, 2017, 3:25 pm
BASTROP COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Residents in the Sand Hills development in Bastrop County, just outside the city of Red Rock, tell KXAN the rains that followed Harvey destroyed their bridge. That bridge is the only way to get in and out of their neighborhood.
Resident John Livingston said around 30 families live in the development which is on the end of a hilly, tree-lined dirt road maintained entirely by private citizens. The people who live in the area pay into a homeowners association which covers road maintenance and other neighborhood upgrades.
Their bridge also collapsed during the Memorial Day flooding in 2015. They spent over $20,000 then to get the bridge fixed with the help of a TxDOT engineer who volunteered his time. In 2015 the neighbors were not eligible for county funding or FEMA funding.
Livingston expects it will take at least $50,000 to re-excavate the bridge and re-build.
Bastrop County was added to the disaster declaration Gov. Abbott issued for the state during Harvey, meaning that county residents are eligible to apply for relief through FEMA funding.
Livingston said neighbors have already asked Bastrop County for help, and on Tuesday the count offered $10,000 worth of material for a temporary fix even though it is a privately owned road and bridge not under county maintenance.
Read more (Video):
Sand Hills GoFundMe Page:
The private road that was supposed to be public
One interesting tidbit caught my attention at the end of the video report. The road leading into Sand Hills was supposed to be turned over the Bastrop County at the time construction was completed, but for unknown reasons, that never happened.
Why not? Who dropped the ball? The developer? The County? When was the HOA established – before or after it was discovered that Bastrop County never took over responsibility for the road?
The answers are found here:
McElwreath Subdivision Landowner’s Association
Red Rock, TX MSLA History
In summary, Sand Hills was developed by Don McElwreath nearly 50 years ago, before Bastrop County established standards for road construction. McElwreath established the HOA, but never mandated collection of sufficient funds for future maintenance. In the 1990s, McElwreath attempted to bring the road up to standards acceptable to Bastrop County, but those efforts were unsuccessful. Therefore, ownership of the road was never transferred to the county.
After the developer’s death, it was left up to property owners to attempt to collect funds for their HOA, known as MSLA. Those efforts fell short, and the community has been struggling to make basic and emergency repairs as needed.
As previously covered here att IAC, a similar situation exists in the Golden Hills neighborhood, Greene County, Virginia. In that case, however, a homeowners’ association was never set up to fund maintenance of what turned out to be a private road, even though it was supposed to be a state road maintained by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
In both cases, however, property owners have been saddled with a private road that they cannot afford to maintain, let alone rebuild. In both cases, the Counties were ultimately responsible for working out a resolution with homeowners, but instead chose to ignore their obligations to public service, and force taxpaying homeowners to bear the full cost burden. Homeowners now find themselves with a problem they cannot resolve on their own, a problem that is a direct result of decades of poor local planning, developer management, and hands-off governance.
One way in and out
The other important fact about Sand Hills: there is just one access road. It would seem to be common sense that all neighborhoods should have at least two access roads, in the event that one road would become inaccessible.
Yet I continue to read reports of private residential communities with only one way in and out of the neighborhood. Apparently, like Bastrop County, some local planning officials approve residential development with this obvious flaw and potential safety hazard.
Is it not a matter of public interest to have safe access roads in and out of communities for first responders (police officers, fire fighters, EMS drivers) and to provide a way for residents to get to school, work, and medical appointments?
And what about FEMA?
It is understandable that FEMA will not provide assistance for private roads, when the agency and its National Flood Insurance Program already lack sufficient funds to pay for public infrastructure and assistance to privately insured individuals. But Sand Hills probably deserves special consideration, if the HOA can make a convincing case that the access road was supposed to be turned over the Bastrop County years ago, but was not, due to no fault of property owners.