February 13, 2015

Bulldozing Public Trust in the Bosque | by Richard Barish

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]RICHARD BARISH is a practicing attorney, a long-time Sierra Club volunteer, and has been Bosque Issues Chair of the Central New Mexico Group of the Sierra Club for over 25 years. [/box]
A view of Albuquerque's Bosque from the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park

A view of Albuquerque’s Bosque from the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park

In an extraordinary display of disdain for the wishes of the public he nominally represents, Mayor Richard Berry ordered a trail to be plowed through the Bosque on Tuesday.  Although not literally done in the dead of night, the Mayor could not have been more secretive.  The Mayor’s intentions for the design of the trail were never disclosed, and the plans to begin construction on Tuesday were never divulged, but were only discovered by accident after construction had already begun.  The Mayor reneged on the City’s promise to allow the public to review and comment on specific design options before a final plan was selected.  The Mayor’s actions were the actions of a person filled with an arrogance of power who believes he has no responsibility to the public he is supposed to serve.  The Mayor’s actions were a breach of trust with Albuquerque residents who had worked long, and effectively, to come up with a consensus plan for the Bosque.

The trail that is now being constructed will be a six foot wide, groomed and manicured trail, surfaced in crusher fines, that will be inconsistent with the character of the Bosque as a natural space.  The trail will extend the entire length of the Bosque between Central Ave. and the I-40 bridge on the east side of the river.  The trail is in the location of an already existing trail, but it will substantially widen the existing trail for much of its length. This is of particular concern in the portion of the trail along the river bank.  The river bank is the most ecologically sensitive portion of the Bosque, and the City should be trying to minimize impacts to this area, not increasing impacts.

The Mayor’s actions are especially unfortunate, because the City had done a terrific job of reestablishing public trust over the last year and a half.  The City’s plans for the Bosque got off to a rocky start four years ago.  The City immediately shipped the plans off to an architectural consultant without even asking City residents what they wanted done in their Bosque.  It only consulted with a very narrow segment of the public that did not include Bosque users.

City residents are understandably very attached to their Bosque.  The Bosque is a great place to enjoy nature in the middle of the City. When the public learned what the City had in mind for the Bosque, they came out in great numbers to express their opinions, and they didn’t like what they learned about the plans for the Bosque.  The City’s plans called for substantial development in the Bosque.  About 400 people showed up at a public meeting on September 4, 2013, and almost every person in attendance opposed the City’s plans.

The City, to its credit, appeared to listen.  It slowed the process down.  It agreed to gather baseline environmental data so that it would be able to assess the effects of its project.  It put on a series of terrific Bosque forums last year to educate Albuquerque residents about the issues facing the Bosque.  It did a great job of soliciting public input on its environmental monitoring plan and on plans for the Bosque between Central and the I-40 bridge.  The City had gone a long way toward repairing the trust it had lost by its early handling of the Bosque plans.

Involving the public in the process appeared to bear fruit.  The Bosque plan’s fiercest critics and the Open Space Division were close to agreement on what would have been a consensus plan for the Central to I-40 stretch.  What had been a source of contention was turning into a model of listening, dialogue, and accommodation.  The consensus plan that was being discussed would even have included a wider, multi-use trail similar to what the Mayor seeks.  The trail would have been great for bicycles and horses, but the trail would have had a less developed and more natural design that is more in keeping with the natural character of the Bosque than the trail that is now being built.

Then, with no announcement or warning to the public, the City began plowing and gouging a trail through the Bosque earlier this week.  The mayor shattered the trust of the public that the City had worked so hard and effectively to rebuild over the past year and a half.

The Bosque Action Team, the coalition of groups and individuals working to maintain the natural character of the Bosque, is considering its options. If you would like to be kept informed of developments and actions, send me an email at richard.barish@gmail.com.  In the meantime, the mayor needs to know that running roughshod over the wishes of City residents and reneging on the City’s commitments to the public are not acceptable.  Please contact the mayor, mayorberry@cabq.gov or 768-3000, and tell him to stop construction in the Bosque until the public process has been completed and there is consensus on a plan for the Bosque.


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