By Richard Barish, Sierra Club Central Group Bosque Issues chair
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has disregarded his agreement on a process for public involvement in Bosque decisions in order to rush through plans to extend the developed Bosque trail this winter for another 1.2 miles, from the I-40 bridge to Campbell Road.
The Administration created an uproar in February 2015 when it began construction of the first phase of its Bosque development in the middle of a promised public process, short-circuiting public involvement. In order to avoid such an uproar in the future, the Administration entered into an agreement with the Sierra Club and the Bosque Action Team that established a good public process for future Bosque projects. The agreement was finalized in March 2015 and presented to City Council in April.
Unfortunately, the Mayor does not believe that he actually has to comply with his agreement. By the time the Administration decided to extend the trail this winter, there was not enough time to comply with the agreed procedures and complete construction before nesting season in the spring, when it has to cease work in the Bosque. Although construction could have waited until the fall, the Mayor decided instead to just scrap the agreement.
The Administration instead employed a highly abbreviated public process. It held one public meeting, on Jan. 7. At that meeting, a standing-room-only crowd of about 175 people turned out, and others were seen searching for parking places and leaving when none could be found. The Administration ended the meeting before everyone who signed up to speak had the opportunity to do so.
The Administration's agreement on process required it to present alternative designs that included alternative trail widths and alternative materials out of which the trail would be constructed. At the outset of the Jan. 7 meeting, however, the Administration informed the audience that the trail design would be a 6-foot wide, crusher-fine trail, the same as the controversial first section of the trail. The Administration thus pre-decided this issue without any public input. The Administration only presented alternatives on the route of the trail.
The comments at the meeting were overwhelmingly critical of the Administration's plans. Comments favored prioritizing environmental protection and keeping the Bosque as natural and undeveloped as possible.
After the meeting and disclosure of the alternatives, the Administration allowed only very limited time for written comments, again contrary to its agreement.
The option selected by the Administration does move the multi-use trial and the heavy traffic that may exist on that trail away from the sensitive river bank for a good portion of the length of this section of the trail. The trail appears to incorporate more curves than the section of the trail south of I-40, which may help to slow down those few of the bicyclists who may be inclined to travel faster than they should. In these respects, the Administration was responsive to the concerns that were expressed, and our work did improve the trail.
However, the trail is another 6-foot-wide, crusher-fine-surfaced trail that is an obvious developed feature in the Bosque and that is thus not consistent with the natural character of the Bosque. The Administration could have met its access objectives with a trail design that was more in keeping with the what makes the Bosque a special place, that it is a great natural space in the middle of the city.
Although the Administration felt a great urgency to extend its trail this winter, it has not felt the same urgency about the restoration projects that it has committed to doing as part of its Bosque project. At this point, little progress has been made on those projects, and it is appearing more and more questionable whether those projects will be completed before the end of the Mayor's term in December 2017.
The Administration now moves on to further Bosque development, including a proposed 10-foot-wide bridge across the siphon outfall, halfway between Central and I-40. The Open Space Advisory Board voted against the bridge as designed, although this vote is advisory only. It can also be anticipated that the City will extend its trail from Campbell to Montaño next fall and winter.
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