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Nature Heights Drive work can begin; iconic tree won’t be impacted

Nature Heights Drive in Marble Falls

This tree, which sets in the middle of Nature Heights Drive splitting traffic to either side, will not be damaged by work on a low-water crossing to the west or by widening the road to allow firetrucks easier access to the neighborhood beyond, Marble Falls City Engineer Kacey Paul told members of the City Council at a meeting June 15. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley

Phase 1 of the Nature Heights Drive low-water crossing upgrade can begin after the Marble Falls City Council accepted federal grant funding for the project during its June 15 meeting. The first phase includes designs and permitting. 

The low-water crossing is located near the intersection of Nature Heights and Commerce Street and provides access to the Loma Lane neighborhood. Like the Avenue N bridge, the crossing flooded in 2018, raising accessibility concerns and prompting the city to pursue federal funding. 

Crews will elevate the crossing by installing box culverts that help mitigate floodwater from the Whitman Branch Creek, City Engineer Kacey Paul explained during the meeting. Total project costs are estimated at just over $2 million. 

On April 22, the city was awarded $1.5 million in grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for the project. The grant covers 75 percent of costs as well as the grant management fees, Paul said. 

Funding will be released to the city in phases. Phase 1 covers design and permitting fees, roughly $240,000. The city has one year to finish this phase before moving into construction. 

The anticipated local match for the entire project is $512,393. 

Before voting, councilors questioned project logistics, including emergency vehicle accessibility and whether a large tree located near the project area would be damaged. The tree sits directly in the middle of Nature Heights Trail just east of the low-water crossing. 

“Getting the fire engines through there is part of the scope, right?” Councilor Craig Magerkurth asked. 

“Does it save the big tree to the east?” Councilor Dave Rhodes added. 

“(Fire engines) will be sorted out through the extension project and this should not — ,” Paul began.

“That was a yes or no question,” Rhodes interjected. 

“This should not impact the big tree,” Paul finished. 

The iconic tree could become a controversial flashpoint with residents because of its size and placement. 

“I wouldn’t want my daughter to be chained to it to prevent (anything from happening to the tree),” Councilor Dee Haddock joked. “She and her friend said they (would do) that years ago when they were in junior high.” 

Also during the meeting, the council approved entering into professional service agreements with Langford Community Management Services, which will oversee grant management for the project, and TRC Companies, the engineering firm working on the Avenue N bridge project. 

brigid@thepicayune.com