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By Ricardo Gandara

About $9 million in federal money originally earmarked to help wildfire survivors rebuild houses will now go to erosion control and road repairs, if Bastrop County officials can get federal approval.

The money became available when only 35 of 210 families qualified for the $19 million set aside to rebuild as many as 150 houses for people who were uninsured or underinsured.

The Texas General Land Office is making the $9 million available for other purposes because of the low number of families approved for the housing program. The program still has $10 million in it, and Katy Sellers, a spokeswoman for the Disaster Recovery Program at the General Land Office, said applications are still being reviewed. Also, some families turned down for the program have appealed and could be approved, she said.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development will ultimately decide whether to allow the road work and erosion control projects that Bastrop County is proposing with the remaining funds.

The 2011 Labor Day weekend wildfires charred 34,000 acres, destroyed 1,700 homes and killed two people.

“We know what our needs are,” said Mike Fisher, the county’s emergency management coordinator. “We’re just looking for projects that will qualify.”

Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said road repairs are another priority.

“Ninety-four miles of county roads were within the burn zone. They were damaged during the cleanup efforts as bulldozers, excavators, backhoes and heavy trucks created potholes. We think this type of work could be approved,” Pape said.

Pape said the federal money could also help clean up several private properties that were abandoned. “We have several home sites that look like they did a day after the fires. We think this is also a viable project,” he said. The county will clear the properties, including removing the concrete slabs, which are all that is left of some homes.

Fisher said the county will pitch erosion control projects to stabilize soil. “We’re thinking of erosion prevention because the next big rain will come at a cost. We need to plant more trees, grasses and wildflowers, and stabilize slopes to decrease runoff. We also need diversion dams,” he said.

Sellers said HUD this week awarded an additional $5.6 million to all Texas counties that had wildfires to help fire departments recoup losses of equipment and gear.

“We hope Bastrop volunteer fire departments can use the money for equipment like tanker trucks, pumper trucks and fire suits,” Pape said.

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