The funds, which were passed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to the River Authority, make up just over 10% of USACE’s $61.3 million total commitment to the County for the $271.4 million project.
River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott, County Judge Nelson Wolff, Rep. Will Hurd (D23), Bexar County Commissioner Chico Rodriguez (Pct. 1), and River Authority Board Member and Chair Pro Tem Gaylon Oehlke spoke at the announcement.
The River Authority was designated as program manager of the Mission Reach in 2009, and was allowed to use additional Bexar County funding for federal work with the condition that the County receive federal reimbursement.
The Mission Reach, part of the San Antonio River Improvements Project, turned an eight-mile stretch of the San Antonio River into a linear park and was completed in October 2013.
The River Authority announced in November 2015 that it received $874,826.44, just 1.4% of the committed total, from USACE. This amount is included in the $6.2 million, which was the combination of several small payments USACE made to the River Authority during the past nine months.
“We at the San Antonio River Authority Board of Directors will continue to be very committed to fight for this funding, and we’re extremely pleased with the efforts of all who have been working to get this reimbursement,” Oehlke said.
Scott said that she is hoping for the remaining total, $55.1 million, to be paid in increasingly large installments.
“We’re working very hard to try and get larger and larger chunks as we more forward. With good leadership I think that is going to be possible,” Scott said. “Congressman Hurd and his staff are working on language within the appropriations bills that are moving through right now to try to step up the amount each year. And, of course, the rest of the Congressional delegation, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D35) and Congressman Henry Cuellar (D28), everyone, has been very instrumental in making sure that there is a full-court press in Congress.”
Commissioner Rodriguez said that teamwork between the County, the River Authority, and the Congressmen is the key to receiving federal reimbursements.
“(The) most important (thing is) keeping the ball rolling and working together in a bipartisan way. I want to thank Congressman Hurd for understanding how important this is … for this being his number one priority. Without Congressman Hurd, I don’t think (these payments) would have continued,” Rodriguez said. “We also need to recognize and thank the voters of San Antonio. Without the voters of San Antonio, approving the River Authority expansion and all of the projects, this would have never been done.”
Hurd said the County’s initiative in providing temporary funding to the River Authority created benefits for both the community and the City.
“I think it’s safe to say that if it wasn’t for the Mission Reach project, we wouldn’t have gotten the UNESCO World Heritage designation and we wouldn’t have gotten the economic development that has come into the city,” Hurd said.
County Judge Nelson Wolff said that the Commissioners Court plans to immediately reinvest the money into County waterways, specifically to make up for some of the discrepancy between projected costs and actual costs for the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.
“I think we’ll probably vote on that pretty soon. We allocated $125 million (to the project), but it’s a $175 million project to get all the way down. And you don’t know until you actually begin digging what other problems might occur, so the extra funding…I assume part of it would go to San Pedro Creek,” Wolff said. “San Pedro Creek is our biggest project, but that doesn’t mean (part of) it couldn’t be put into another waterway, but I know that right now it is our priority to get the creek done.”
Scott said that because the money will be reinvested by the County, the Congressmen are collectively motivated to see the money come back to San Antonio.
“I don’t think that they would be as inspired to reinvest the money if they didn’t feel like it was going to go back into projects that make sense for this type of money to be used for,” Scott said. “The County has committed to that, so it makes it a simple story to be able to say in Congress that the money is being reinvested in projects that improve our environment and improve our waterways.”
Scott also announced that San Antonio River Foundation (SARF) founding President Sara “Sally” Buchanan passed away Saturday after a long battle with cancer. Buchanan was a River Authority representative on the San Antonio River Foundation’s Board of Directors and an advocate for historical preservation.
“She’s here with us in spirit today and would be very proud of the announcement we’re making,” Scott said. “She worked very hard to ensure that this reimbursement could be given back to Bexar County for their wonderful investment in this project.”
Top image: County Judge Nelson Wolff (left), County Commissioner Chico Rodriguez (Pct. 1), River Auhtority Board Member and Chair Pro Tem Gaylon Oehlke, and Rep. Will Hurd (D23) hold the Mission Reach reimbursement check. Photo by Sarah Talaat.