By LYNETTE HAALAND
Four Points News
Preventing wildfire and discussions surrounding it took up about a quarter of the July 19 Steiner Ranch Master Association board meeting. The SRMA took action on cleaning up dead vegetation in one Steiner park but now some homeowners feel the trimming went too far and their lush greenbelt has been drastically altered.
One resident commented, “I was for this… but the tree trimming has gone too far.”
The trimming has exposed some backyards in places where homeowners had a greenbelt buffer. Now they have privacy concerns. It has also created a new walkway that wasn’t there before, residents shared.
New SRMA board member Amy Yukich shared that she believes in keeping Steiner safe from wildfire risk but “this was a ‘pilot’ project and there were a lot of mistakes made that I will be working towards finding solutions not only for these residents, but for any possible projects in the future.”
The decision to trim the 2.5-acre Capella Park area was before her time on the board, which she was elected to last month in June.
“As far as the HOA goes, and I can only speak for myself, we need to approach this project, and really any project to accomplish the goal of safety, while doing our best to maintain the lush landscapes and privacy residents pay a premium for when they purchase a home on the greenbelt,” Yukich said.
She thinks that the “right thing to do (in this situation) is to provide landscaping to restore some privacy for these residents. Moving forward, clear communication with the residents, LTFR education before the fact, and integrating replacement landscaping will be my prescription for success.”
The Capella Park clearing got its start over a year ago.
That is when some residents who live around Capella Park in Steiner believed their homes were at risk for wildfire due to dead trees and brush in the 2.5-acre area. In summer 2021, a couple who represented several Capella neighbors shared emails, made phone calls and spoke up at the July board meeting about these concerns.
The group wanted the homeowner’s association to clean up the dead vegetation that were fuels for wildfire.
“If it is dead, it is not going to come back. It is sitting there and a fire hazard,” Anne told the board in July 2021. “These pockets everywhere are at risk.” She added, “Let me remind you that the fires in 2011 didn’t start in Steiner.”
“Furthermore it took us three hours to evacuate,” her husband told the SRMA board in July 2021.
Wildfire a decade ago on September 4, 2011 destroyed 23 homes in Steiner Ranch and seriously damaged many others, causing an evacuation which took hours and lasted for days.
Last summer, a member of the Steiner Firewise Committee walked through the Capella Park area at 12312 Capella Trl. and took 70+ pictures. These were submitted to the SRMA board as evidence of how poorly maintained the area was, according to the concerned couple.
Lake Travis Fire Rescue Emergency Services District 6 got involved and this July finished trimming trees in the 2.5-acre park.
At the SRMA board meeting last week, Lake Travis Fire Rescue shared a presentation on what they did in Capella Park.
LTFR cleared underbrush in the park area that can carry fire to the tree canopy in the greenbelt next to homes. LTFR reduced fuel density and created defensible space, “restoring the woodland to a more natural, fire resilient landscape,” said Dustin Dunn, LTFR wildfire mitigation specialist.
“We spread (wood) chips around to hold moisture, about 2 inches deep,” Dunn shared at the SRMA meeting last week. “Some people think chips create a fire risk but the risk is not there.”
LTFR answered the question “do the wood chips create a fire risk?” Answer: “This risk is significantly less than ladder fuel that is removed. We mitigate this by
spreading them out to two inches deep. The chips also help to act as erosion
control and moisture retention for the topsoil.”
LTFR also answered the question “will the vegetation grow back?” Answer: “The wood chips will help to prevent regrowth, but will not stop it completely.
Maintenance intervals on shaded fuel breaks are three to five years.”
This Capella project could serve as a pilot for a larger scale, community-wide project for other areas that need attention to help protect Steiner from wildfire risk.
LTFR has identified 20+ miles of areas that are candidates for shaded fuel breaks in Steiner. The board will continue to discuss a community wide plan in the weeks and months ahead.
“Fire safety and education is crucial in our community,” said SRMA board member Yukich. She added, “it is very important to educate our residents about what they can do to prevent fires personally and in and around their homes.”
July SRMA meeting
The July board meeting of the Steiner Ranch Master Association was well attended by homeowners including many who made up the 31 people who attended via Zoom on July 19.
Chris Langevin was voted in as president by the board, replacing Naren Chilukuri, who was voted in as secretary.
Many comments and concerns were raised from homeowners during the monthly meeting including follow up on multiple subjects such as: officer elections, the new dog park, the new Steiner Lake Club updates, parking citations, management response time, SRMA leadership and more. At times, the exchanges were heated and the homeowner forum portion took well over an hour. The meeting was scheduled to conclude at 10 p.m. but instead lasted until nearly 11 p.m. and only got to item 9 on the 18 item agenda.