Binational River Park could be game changer for the world

The Binational River Park project has garnered steam and international attention, as it is the first project of its kind being worked on by the U.S. and Mexico.

Overland Partners, an architecture firm working on the project, highlighted the project’s primary and secondary goals and its current progress this week.

“I think Laredo is worthy of a project of this nature,” said Rick Archer, Founding Principal at Overland Partners Architects. “It’s a game changer for Laredo and a game changer potentially for the world.”

Archer emphasized the project is still early in development, but it has made strides. Earlier this year, a trip by a delegation of both Laredo and Nuevo Laredo officials traveled to Washington D.C. for a meeting and presentation of the binational park. 

Now on Sunday, Archer said a similar delegation will travel to Mexico City to present the project to the Mexican government. This delegation will meet with government officials, business leaders and both countries’ ambassadors to garner both political and potentially financial support in Mexico.

“Broadly, the concept is taking a thousand acres of land, an over 6.3-mile stretch of the river, and restoring it back to a native habitat,” Archer said. “It’s about introducing pathways for bikes, hiking and jogging. Making the river accessible to people as well as making the river more secure by giving the Border Patrol greater visibility over the river, greater lateral movement and making it more patrol-able on the Mexico side.”

One way to help increase security is by improving roads along the river that have been washed away by the rising water levels. Archer said due to the wild nature of the river, it is affected by both droughts and floods, rendering simple roads vulnerable to the water levels. But the project plans to upslope roads that could preserve roadways and improve water quality.

He said the meeting will be very similar to the Washington D.C. trip, but the delegation will also take the time to meet with EarthX representatives, a conservation organization, for more discussion. The trip will include discussion topics such as water quality issues, conservation and potential funding from Mexico.

“It’s a long-term project. It’d take many years to fully accomplish, but we remain extremely optimistic about its future,” he said.

Archer also cited a supplemental endeavor in the form of a $72 million investment by Mexico to address sewage pollution and wastewater management into the Rio Grande, which falls in line with the primary goal of conserving the river and its ecology throughout the projected 6.3 miles. Furthermore, a $52 million federal grant from the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 will fund a restoration effort of 16.75 acres of the Chacon Creek watershed.

Another prior investment in the project came in the form of a $2 million federal earmark toward restoring a segment of the river as well as clearing out invasive species. However, a budget or final cost of the project has still not been created as the project is still in the conceptual phase.

The EarthX meeting will likely reflect both theirs and Overland Partners conservation mentality, as EarthX is an international, nonprofit environmental forum whose purpose is to inform and inspire people to action toward a more sustainable future. This may serve as a useful cooperation to address Archer’s No. 1 goal of cleaning the water.

“The reason the park part is important is because it is about providing human activation to the riverbanks, but it is also, maybe more importantly, a conservation project,” Archer said. “It’s about restoring the Rio Grande, the water quality, the water quantity, restoring the native habitat on the banks, eliminating the Carrizo Cane — an invasive species that is drinking all the water — and planting native species on the banks.

“It’s both an improvement of quality of life in people and an improvement to the river and the rivershed.”

Regarding the cost of the conservation efforts, Overland Partners indicated due to the countries sharing the river, the measures are expected to have a combined funding source from both nations’ local, state and federal agencies as well as donations and grants. Aside from both city mayors and both nations’ ambassadors showing enthusiasm for the project, Archer added the governor of Tamaulipas also showed its support.

The Binational River Park project began as an idea in during three weeks of meetings in late 2021 before U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar was briefed on the proposal. It was stated it could bolster relationships between both Laredo and Nuevo Laredo and improve the river quality in February. Archer now believes the park project could be a symbol of that relationship between both nations and emphasizes the symbiotic link between both sister cities.

Archer elaborated that Overland Partners work has history in projects next to waterways, either next to a coast or rivers, which led to their renown regarding projects around water. He added the project will not be handled by Overland alone, but in partnership with Able City Architects and the Binational Working Group.

“The journey has begun, and we are ecstatic to engage in the beginning phases of this rewarding project alongside our sister city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas,” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz stated in February. “We had the honor of welcoming U.S. Ambassador for Mexico Ken Salazar and presenting him with our ideas and vision for the Binational River Park.

“This project will rescue the Rio Grande by enhancing its ecology and the quality of our main source of water. It will also strengthen tourism, security, economic prosperity, our binational ties with Mexico and quality of life. Both cities look forward to presenting this project at a binational level and as a model to the world with the objective of keeping ‘Los Dos Laredos’ as one river, one community.”

As a final note, Archer indicated the project is not a fix-all project.

“Frankly, it really takes the entire community. We can’t just fix the river, and everybody keeps doing with they have been doing,” he said. “Between planting native plant species and the reduction of pollution, los dos Laredos will have to keep in mind the health of their river and its impact on the health of the South Texas border.”

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