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Neighbors navigate SA River project

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A potential project to restore the San Antonio River’s wetlands ecosystem in Brackenridge Park is prompting both concerns and cautious optimism from a nearby neighborhood.

The San Antonio River Authority is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department to examine the feasibility of an aquatic and riparian ecosystem restoration project along the river between Mulberry Avenue and U.S. 281 North.

A public meeting was held to introduce the project and then a second session was convened to solicit suggestions and opinions, primarily from the adjacent River Road Historic District, local businesses and cultural institutions.

Aarin Teague, senior engineer with SARA, said the community seems mostly in favor of the project, but noted a wide variety of opinions have been expressed.

“The community has long been asking for the restoring of habitat, for us to take care of some of the erosion and address other challenges that the river is experiencing to improve the sustainability and resilience of the river through this stretch,” Teague said.

Planners welcome the community’s views, he added.

“We want to go ahead and improve it, but we don’t want to make it so stylized that it loses its qualities that make it unique,” said Arlene Fisher, who serves on the Parks and River Committee of the River Road Neighborhood Association. She said her neighborhood’s unique layout is one of the reasons she has loved living there since 2006.

“I guess the River Authority and the Corps of Engineers have had different priorities for use of funds other than this section of the river,” she said. “We’re hoping to go ahead and move forward this time. I think this area of the river warrants the attention.”

The River Road neighborhood is a long-established, secluded enclave with homes ranging from bungalows to Tudor Revival cottages. Within its boundaries lies one of the last remaining natural, unchanneled portions of the San Antonio River.

The neighborhood, which borders the river, 281 and the Brackenridge Park Golf Course, has wanted some help with the waterway for quite awhile, but a lack of funding has kept any plans from moving forward, neighbors said.

According to SARA’s website, the portion of the river being studied is excellent for birding and fishing with catfish, largemouth bass and spotted gar. But, erosion has become a problem as well as some invasive species of flora and fauna that threaten the natural habitat.

Planners are cognizant of the impact the project could have on the neighborhood, said Justyss<cq> Watson, a biologist with the Corps of Engineers.

“We do have constraints on the project. We don’t want to make anything negatively impact the neighborhood,” Watson said. “With this project, there is going to be an environmental assessment, so there shouldn’t be significant impact to the neighborhood from what we can tell for now,” she said.

Fisher said the main issues that concern her are the river’s erosion, the sedimentation and flooding from rains. She also worries about drainage, maintaining the integrity of the river and keeping it as natural as possible.

Fisher and the committee also don’t want the low-water crossing replaced with a bridge or changes that might interfere with migratory birds.

“It’s got a lot of natural amenities that typically you don’t have in an inner-city neighborhood,” Fisher said.

Longtime resident William Sibley said he and most of his neighbors deeply care about the river and want to be good stewards of the waterway.

“I’m not opposed to some thoughtful pruning of non-native species along the river banks, but I love the low-water crossing and feel its elimination will terminate the pooling that allows a summertime dwelling for fish, ducks, turtles, birds, etc.,” Sibley said.

He also supports closing off the golf course maintenance road from Mulberry — provided there is adequate parking at the entrance for walkers, fishers and nature lovers. However, Sibley said he doesn’t want to see a new accessway through Allison Drive/Davis Park and the closing of the longtime entrance at Mulberry, adjacent to the river.

Watson said several options are being weighed.

“Measures depend on the project, but some of the measures that we’ve looked at are planting native vegetative species, removing invasive species and modifying or removing the low-water crossing within that (part) of the river,” Watson said.

The corps is working with the golf course, but is mostly staying out of that area except the part of the river to plant native species about 50 feet along the banks.

The corps is funding a large component of the feasibility study with a local match from SARA. The study is not expected to be finished until the end of this year or early 2021. Another public meeting will follow.

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