Opposition to “The Rio Grande Vision,” a key component in Mayor Richard Berry’s initiative known as ABQ: The Plan, is rising faster than the river that created the bosque the plan says it will preserve.
Last week, the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club and the West Side Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, which represents about 20 neighborhoods, came out against the plan, saying it lacked input from environmentalists and fundamentally changes the nature of the cottonwood forest lining the Rio Grande, commonly referred to as the bosque.
Berry said he welcomes input on the plan from everyone and that environmental concerns will remain paramount in any projects that might move forward.
“What we have here is a visioning document – not a blueprint,” Berry said last week during a tour of the bosque at the riverside Rotary Club Park on Central.
“This was created specifically to get ideas on the table to allow the public to have discussions. Most of the ideas in here came from the public. They also came from consultants who specialize in river restoration.
“And now the job of the community is to evaluate this visioning document,” he said.
Berry said the “Rio Grande Vision” was developed after hundreds of well-publicized public meetings, input from consultants and online citizen surveys.
Richard Barish, spokesman for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, doesn’t see it that way.
“The mayor says this is a plan that comes from the Albuquerque citizens, but I do not think that that’s the case,” Barish said. “I was not present at those earlier meetings, because the mayor did not contact groups that would have an obvious interest in what happens in the bosque, including the Sierra Club.”
ABQ: The Plan is the mayor’s long-range initiative to improve the city’s quality of life, create jobs and promote economic development. Its initiatives range from rebuilding the clogged Interstate 25/Paseo del Norte interchange and a 50-mile loop around the city to improvements to the Rio Grande bosque. The latter is addressed in detail in “The Rio Grande Vision,” available online at www.riograndevision.com.
The 124-page plan suggests a wide variety of possible improvements along both sides of the Rio Grande, including five new pedestrian bridges over the river, boardwalks, riverside viewing platforms, viewing towers, hardened trails, boat ramps and artwork throughout the bosque.
“We’re not opposed to some of that stuff being built,” Barish said. “But we think most of the bosque should be left as a natural green space.”
Dick Kirschner with the West Side Coalition of Neighborhood Associations said some of the proposed bosque “improvements” are intrusive to its fragile ecosystem.
“The proposed plan has all kinds of intrusions into that natural world that diminish and threaten the quality of the bosque,” he said Wednesday. “Those include hard-surface trails, boardwalks, boating docks, river crossings, towers – even a cafe. Those are just a whole lot of commercial and noncommercial intrusions into a beautiful, natural ecosystem.
“The plan that the mayor proposes does include some conservation and preservation activities that most people support, but taken as a whole it has too much development activity.”
But the mayor said there’s a balance to be reached between the use and the preservation of the bosque.
“One of the things we heard when we went out and engaged the public is that people would like to have the bosque and the Rio Grande more a part of our lives,” Berry said. “That means lots of different things to different people.”
He said the best way for the city to be a good steward of the bosque is to make it more accessible so people will see its value and want to preserve it.
“Not everything in (the plan) will work for us. But it’s a way to drive the public dialogue, which we’re happy we’re getting, whether they agree or disagree with things in the plan,” the mayor said.
Barish is skeptical.
“I’d like to see those notes from those meetings where people were asking for boardwalks to be placed in the bosque, or that artworks be placed in the bosque,” he said. “I have a hard time believing that people were clamoring for that.”
Barish also complained that the plan doesn’t do enough to address environmental concerns, such as invasive plant species and impacts on overwintering birds.
“There really needs to be a conservation element in this plan,” he said. ” … It’s a very stressed ecosystem.”
Berry said anything proposed for the bosque will be approached in an “environmentally responsible way.”
“Our next phase is to engage an environmental consultant – which has been part of the plan all along – to work with the city and our planning consultant to come up with a specific plan,” Berry said.
“There are some individuals who think we’re further along than we are,” Berry said, which may be why opposition is surfacing.
The next step is to “take this visioning document, couple that with the input that we’re getting, and then start developing individual projects, Berry said. “… At that point, people will be able to make very specific comments.”
The Rio Grande Vision, Barish said, “Takes a green, natural area where you enjoy nature, and turning it into an urban park. … People essentially want the bosque to remain as an undeveloped and natural kind of place.”