SAN ANTONIO, Texas (border report) – The ambassadors to the United States and Mexico both on Wednesday gave their full support to an ambitious and costly environmental conservation project on the southern border of Texas, saying it will save the Rio Grande and improve security at the borders.
On the opening day of the XXVI Environmental Forum on the United States-Mexico Border, held in San Antonio, United States Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar and Mexican Ambassador to the United States Esteban Moctezuma urged private investors, municipalities and federal officials in both countries to support a binational river park project being developed on the Rio Grande between the cities of Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
And they said it should be a model for development along the US-Mexico border, from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.
“These types of projects that are characterized by Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, and the leadership of these two communities with the assistance of the City of San Antonio, are projects that should be imagined, envisioned and planned along the border of 2 000 miles,” Salazar said in response to a question from Border Report at a press conference after his presentation.
Both were keynote speakers at the forum, hosted by the North American Development Bank (NADBank), where the theme of the two-day conference is “Creating a Greener, More Prosperous Border.”
The two ambassadors touted the need for more binational agreements that promote trade, a cleaner border and more investment opportunities
“We have to see the border as a region,” Moctezuma said. “The different pressures we have on the border can be an opportunity to create a secure border by investing in it. Invest in infrastructure. Investing in the environment. Invest in people.
That request turned into real money in a lunchtime speech hours later when Nuevo León Governor Samuel Alejandro García Sepúlveda signed an agreement with NADBank Chief Executive Calixto Mateos. Hanel, for a technical assistance grant to study water conservation and resilience methods at Mexico’s northern border. State.
García pledged $250,000 from his border state in northern Mexico to match the $250,000 NADBank pledged for studies to identify diversification and other water sources for the border region.
“I’m glad the border has been raised to a level where Washington, Mexico and others see us with valor,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said of the details of the river park project.
“I think we got there. Ambassador Moctezuma said you really can’t create something without imagining it. Well, we imagined it. We have a vision and we are starting to create it there on the border and it starts with the river,” Saenz said.
Phase I, or Project Uno, of the proposed binational river park involves cleaning up carrizo cane and other invasive species along the banks of the Rio Grande in Laredo, Texas. On the Mexican side, officials are investing $72 million to clean up a sewage treatment plant that discharges toxins into the river, which is the only source of drinking water for 6 million South Texas residents.
But the project, described as “ambitious” by almost every speaker on Wednesday, could total $500 million and take a decade or more to complete. It could rival San Antonio’s Riverwalk in terms of infrastructure and would create opportunities for development and trade between nations in areas that Salazar says have been “neglected”.
“We’ve come up with a plan,” Saenz told the audience filled with well-connected investors, bankers and developers from both countries. “But there is a lack of money and the locals cannot provide much because it is a very ambitious program.”
Salazar said cleaning up the river banks will also improve border security and contribute to ecological sustainability.
“Laredo and Nuevo Laredo is an example of this where they now have a plan to create a 10 kilometer bi-national river project on both sides of the river that will address safety first because you can secure this area. Second, development because you will be able to create development on both sides of the border. And third, environmental because right now the invasive species that inhabit this part of the river are sucking up and drying up a lot of the water,” Salazar told Border Report.
Saenz called the project the equivalent of a “virtual wall” and he challenged President Joe Biden’s administration to find funding.
“This project isn’t just restoring the ecology,” Saenz said. “It also secures the border with a virtual wall, which essentially removes these invasive species, and more openness for our authorities to detect and come to the aid of the border which is also included in this plan that we have.
Rick Archer, chief architect of the project, of San Antonio firm Overland Partners Inc., said a task force promoting the project just returned from a trip to Mexico City on Sunday where they met with several officials of the Mexican cabinet President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
They also met with environmental groups, nongovernmental organizations and municipalities, and Archer told Border Report they received a “wonderful welcome” from Mexican officials and government leaders.
“They share a general enthusiasm for the project,” Archer said. “We are creating a conservation theme that is done together – juntos“, said Archer.
“It’s the first of its kind and it’s a symbol of what other border towns can be,” he said.
Some in the 200-person audience agreed.
San Diego’s Coleen Clementson said she’d like to see it expand to the West Coast.
“Hopefully, we will become what we see with the two Laredos,” Coleen Clementson, deputy chief executive of the San Diego Association of Governments, told forum attendees in a later session.