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Old Posted Oct 13, 2007, 6:52 AM
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SA: $130 Million, 9-Mile Mission Reach [SA River] Breaks Ground

River improvements take another symbolic step

Web Posted: 10/12/2007 09:48 PM CDT

Greg Jefferson
and Tracy Idell Hamilton

After years of planning and frustration, the $126.6 million restoration and enhancement of the San Antonio River's southern reach launched Friday with more fanfare than actual work.

The first step in the Mission Reach of the sprawling San Antonio River Improvement Project will be moving water and wastewater lines that cross the confluence of the river and San Pedro Creek. That'll mean lowering the lines' concrete encasements, which poke out of the water like enormous speed bumps.

More substantial work is expected to start next March at Lone Star Boulevard.

Officials broke ground on the first phase — running from Lone Star to the confluence — on a bluff overlooking the fork, where the banks are strewn with concrete rubble.

County Judge Nelson Wolff touted the Commissioners Court's role in jump-starting the project, including budgeting $11.7 million for the effort this fiscal year. He also noted that four of the court's five members had spent part of their childhoods nearby.

"And you wonder why we put the money south," Wolff said. "We understand what it was before it got messed up, and we're going to make it better than it was even then."

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers looked to curb devastating flooding in the area by straightening the river's course and lining its bottom with large chunks of concrete. The work included stripping away a lot of native vegetation.

"It was very good for flood control, but it wasn't that good for preserving the ecosystem," said Louis Rowe, chairman of the San Antonio River Authority, which is project manager for the Mission Reach.

Restoring the ecosystem is now the main goal. Over the next five years or so, the Army Corps will aim to replicate, as much as possible, the river's original flow while reducing erosion and still maintaining flood control.

The corps will also reintroduce native vegetation, including 24,000 trees and 56 acres of native grasses, which will result in 113 acres of aquatic and 320 acres of riparian habitat.

The project will also enhance the area for recreation, adding hike and bike trails, pedestrian bridges and picnic tables.

But the funding for the Mission Reach is far from certain.

Federal funding hasn't materialized as expected, slowing both the Mission and Museum reaches. The county and the city recently agreed to begin the Mission Reach with local funding, hoping the federal dollars would come eventually. The county's flood control tax will fund much of the federal shortfall, but not all.

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