SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio River Authority (River Authority), Bexar County and the City of San Antonio welcomed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Secretary of the Army (ASA) for Civil Works, Mr. Michael L. Connor as he visited the Mission Reach and Westside Creeks Ecosystem Restoration projects. The Honorable Michael L. Connor was sworn in as the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) in November 2021 and serves as the principal advisor to the Secretary of the Army on all matters related to the Army’s Civil Works Program. His responsibilities include programs for conservation and development of the nation’s water and wetland resources, flood control, navigation, and shore protection, all important aspects of the President’s climate resilience priorities.
ASA Connor was in San Antonio following January’s announcement that the Westside Creeks Ecosystem Restoration Project (Westside Creeks) received the full federal share of the project funding through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Work Plan (Work Plan). The $75 million allocated in the USACE Work Plan will fund the federal share of the remaining design and the subsequent construction of the project. The USACE Work Plan, which was released on January 19th, alerted the River Authority, Bexar County, and the City of San Antonio that the maximum allocation was awarded to the project. Bexar County is the local funding partner while the River Authority is the local project sponsor with the USACE. The Westside Creeks is one of six Texas projects to receive funding in the USACE Work Plan.
“The River Authority has been working diligently since 2008 with our partners at Bexar County, City of San Antonio, Bexar County federal delegation, Corps of Engineers, and the Westside Creeks Restoration Oversight Committee to advance the project for the community and identify viable funding opportunities,” said Jim Campbell, Chair of the River Authority Board of Directors. Bexar County District 2 River Authority Board Member Lourdes Galvan added, “Assistant Secretary Connor’s visit is another demonstration of the Administration’s support and belief in the project. The tour of the project area was an opportunity to demonstrate our progress and funding that will be required to complete the much-needed community health, safety, and enjoyable amenities.”
The Westside Creeks will transform 11 miles of Alazán, Apache, Martinez, and San Pedro creeks by restoring the aquatic ecosystems with native grasses, wildflowers, and trees. The project will also reconstruct the creeks into more natural channels, while also maintaining the present level of flood mitigation protection. Using ecosystem restoration and recreation benefits as a foundation, the project will provide significant environmental justice and community benefits, such as improving environmental and water quality conditions in a densely populated urban area; promoting comprehensive watershed management; advancing neighborhood transportation safety; providing access to outdoor recreation activities in the Westside core; and reconnecting residents to urban creek way systems through an outdoor living classroom for students of all ages to explore and learn about a restored urban ecosystem.
Bexar County has been a strong local advocate for the Westside Creeks and included the local funding match requirement in their 10-year capital improvement program. Precinct 1 Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores said, “The restoration of the Westside Creeks will add 11 more miles of creek ecosystems bringing fish, birds, wildflowers and nature-based recreational opportunities back to the heart of the Westside, which connects to the Southside. This impacts environmental and economic justice and gives our residents a place to exercise and get fresh air, thus also impacting public health. This ecosystem restoration project has a positive domino effect that benefits our community.”
The City of San Antonio has already invested in hike and bike trails along the Westside Creeks which will be incorporated into the design of the ecosystem restoration project. The ecosystem restoration project will add native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees that will provide shade along the trails as the plantings mature. Mayor Nirenberg said, “The Westside Creeks project is a great example of local and federal partnership. The City remains committed to working with Bexar County, the San Antonio River Authority, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete this important ecosystem restoration project which will help advance environmental equity and justice.” Concurring, Councilwoman Teri Castillo, District 5, added, “I was thrilled in January to see that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prioritized the restoration of our Westside Creeks for Infrastructure Act funding and more pleased today to have Assistant Secretary Connor visit the project and the immediately surrounding community. Our community deserves safe and healthy ecosystems, and I am hopeful that our collaboration will lead to a project that includes improvements to our drainage and flood mitigation infrastructure.”
The Westside Creeks project is a community-based creek restoration effort started in 2008 by the River Authority. The project’s focus is to restore the creek ways that were channelized as part of a 1954 federal flood control project known as the San Antonio Channel Improvement Project. To advance the project over the years since its inception, the River Authority has worked closely with Bexar County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the City of San Antonio and the Westside Creeks Restoration Oversight Committee which is comprised of representatives of 20 local community organizations. “I would like to thank ASA Connor, the Fort Worth District and the Southwest Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their efforts to move the Westside Creeks forward,” said Derek Boese, General Manager of the River Authority. “As local project sponsor, the River Authority will continue our close work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to jointly lead the Westside Creeks through design and construction.”
The next step in the process to move the Westside Creeks forward will be for the River Authority, as local sponsor of the project, to come to a contractual agreement with the USACE. It will likely take several months for the project contract to be agreed upon and signed. The design and construction timelines will be developed after the contracting work is completed. The River Authority will assist the USACE in the design and construction of the project together with local partners Bexar County and the City of San Antonio. This effort will also include the River Authority leading a series of public meetings, in collaboration with the USACE, local partners, and the Westside Creeks Oversight Committee, to engage the community in the design and construction of the project. More information will be provided to the media and the public as this process unfolds in the coming months.