Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque city councilors ordered a halt late Wednesday to work on a new trail in the bosque.
The proposal won approval on a 5-3 vote along party lines, with Democrats in the majority. Republican Dan Lewis was absent.
That sets up a potential confrontation with Mayor Richard Berry, whose administration opposed the bill. It would take six votes to overturn a veto if Berry rejects the legislation.
That means council Democrats would have to win support from Lewis or another Republican to prevail.
The council vote followed several hours of testimony and debate. A crowd of perhaps 150 people filled the chambers to cheer in favor of halting the trail work.
Some accused the city of destroying and bulldozing the bosque. Others said the city acted prematurely when more time might have produced a consensus.
The anger was triggered by the city’s decision last week to begin building a 6-foot-wide trail made out of crushed rock in the bosque, east of the river, between Central Avenue and Interstate 40. It would replace a beaten path.
The Berry administration argued the trail would protect the bosque, not harm it, by encouraging people to stay on one trail, rather than trample through the woods. No cottonwood trees will be harmed, the city contends.
Councilors Isaac Benton and Ken Sanchez, both Democrats, co-sponsored Wednesday’s legislation, which orders an immediate halt to the work. Their proposal also would put the project’s funding in reserve, meaning the administration couldn’t spend money to re-start the work unless the council agrees.
Benton said he didn’t want to abandon the project altogether. He said he simply wants to ensure the administration and a coalition of environmental groups work together on a compromise – a process he said was interrupted when the city began work last week.
“The concern is trust,” he said.
Benton also had concerns about the trail alignment itself. “A developed trail right up against the riverbank is wrong,” he said, arguing that it might cave in.
The mayoral administration said it would try again to reach consensus with opponents, but still consider a veto.
“We do not believe this bill is in the best interest for the sustainability of the bosque or the community and will be reviewing our veto options,” Gilbert Montaño, the mayor’s chief of staff, said in a written statement. “We have instructed our parks staff to meet yet again with the group of opponents of this important project in our continued efforts to reach a consensus but we will continue to move forward.”
Michael Riordan, Albuquerque’s chief operations officer, said an environmental study supported the city’s contention that the improved trail would benefit the bosque. “The truth is the environmental specialists and the groups we work with say this is best for the bosque,” he said.
Councilor Trudy Jones, a Republican who voted against the bill, triggered boos from the audience when she suggested opponents of the trail were angry because the city started the work without agreeing to every demand, following years of meetings.
“Is our real intent to punish the mayor because he hurt our feelings?” she asked.
Sanchez said that wasn’t the case at all. People had legitimate complaints, he said, about the abrupt start of construction.
“It’s all about public trust and people believing in their elected officials,” he said.
More than 20 people testified in support of the council bill, though the crowd of supporters was much larger.
“The public process has failed,” said Oscar Simpson, chairman of the state chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
Camilla Feibelman of the Sierra Club said the city’s work took the trail right to the riverfront, the most sensitive area of the bosque.
“It is absolutely not what we would have recommended from a scientific standpoint,” she said.
In favor of the bill were Benton, Sanchez, Rey Garduño, Klarissa Peña and Diane Gibson, all Democrats. Opposed were Jones, Brad Winter and Don Harris, all Republicans.
Lewis, a Republican, didn’t attend the meeting.