Laredoans ‘worthy of this scale of a project,’ say environmentalists
McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) – A day after several members of the Laredo City Council and the mayor raised concerns about the cost of a multi-million dollar binational river park, two ambassadors praised the project at a border trade conference in Washington on Wednesday, DC, Border Report has learned.
The Laredo City Council finally tabled a point Tuesday evening to discuss “a special election for funding” for a sprawling 6-mile ecological restoration zone proposed on both sides of the Rio Grande between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, according to the agenda item. But it was after Mayor Pete Saenz said he believes the federal government should fully fund it and two city councilors said the city has other urgent needs, such as repairing the aging water pipes, according to a video from the meeting.
Environmentalist told Border Report they were concerned about the discussion and that it is too early to talk about the cost of such a huge project. They also feared that if the council had discussed and voted on the topic, it could have been killed the moment it got off the ground.
But Gerald “Gerry” Schwebel, the executive vice president of the International Bank of Commerce who is part of a binational working group studying the project, told Border Report that the US Ambassador to Mexico and the Mexican Ambassador to the United States are speaking positively. to see the project come to a successful conclusion. And, he says, international plans remain “very bad” to move forward.
Both Ken Salazar, US Ambassador to Mexico, and Mexican Ambassador to the US, Esteban Moctezuma, were keynote speakers Wednesday at the eighth annual Building a Competitive US-Mexico Border Conference hosted by the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute and the Border Trade Alliance in Washington. , DC
Schwebel says they spent all day discussing the merits of the Laredo and Nuevo Laredo river project.
“Both ambassadors spoke about the project and it is a dynamic project that they want to continue,” says Schwebel. “It is an evolving process. We have the ambassadors on board and they want to act quickly, but this is like everything else we all work together.”
This is Schwebel’s second trip to Washington, DC, in two months during which he touted the benefits of this project to lawmakers and officials within the Biden administration.
The project is in its early stages, but proponents hope it will eventually grow into a 6-mile ecological recovery zone with trails and other educational infrastructure along the Rio Grande. It may even include amphitheatres on both sides of the river, as well as other amenities.
Tricia Cortez, executive director of the nonprofit Rio Grande International Study Center, is also part of the binational working group studying the project.
She attended Laredo’s city council meeting on Tuesday evening and said her faction begged the council to be patient and give them more time to present more concrete financial figures to the council and the community.
“I know there are questions about the cost and what it will all look like and so we are working on answering those questions, but we do believe it is a critical investment that we have to make for Laredo because the Rio Grande is so We have an endangered and stressed river system and we need this kind of restoration ecologically and to conserve our water source,” Cortez told Border Report.
All of the water for Laredo’s 256,000 residents comes from the Rio Grande, but according to Cortez, city estimates show the city will need to find an additional water source by 2040 unless more efforts are made now to conserve the water.
“According to the city’s forecast, we only have 18 years left,” Cortez said. “So it’s a critical infrastructure project.”
Schwebel has said the entire project could cost $500 million. They are currently working on phase 1, called Project Uno.
The council has submitted the item and plans to address it in a few weeks. Border Report has reached out to ask councilors if they have any concerns about the project and this story will be updated with new information.
Cortez says the community buy-in is extremely important and she said they are also rethinking changing the name to expand it from a “park”, to give it more context and space for the general public. .
“It is not only the right choice for water quality and water flows but also to provide much needed recreation and amenities for Laredoans and we are worthy of this scale of a project and we deserve this as a truly special unique frontier community,” Cortez said.