Mayor Annise Parker and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy toured the Buffalo Bayou Park construction area and discussed the bold plans for the Bayou Greenways 2020 project Thursday morning.
Parker walked with McCarthy from the Sabine Bridge, past the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark and down the pathway near the bayou. Following their exchange, the mayor held a brief press conference featuring many of the key players in the development of both the Buffalo Bayou Park and Bayou Greenways 2020 project, including Rep. Gene Green and State Sen. Rodney Ellis, Houston Parks and Recreation Department director Joe Turner and Buffalo Bayou Partnership president Anne Olson.
"Only through a vibrant natural landscape can we combat natural disasters like hurricanes, our annual flooding and issues of water pollution."
The $215 million Bayou Greenways 2020 project, uniquely funded through a public-private partnership, is extremely ambitious and will significantly expand and enhance the Houston parks system by adding 1,500 acres of parkland and 80 miles of new trails along Houston's interconnected bayous.
The improvements on the 2.5 acre Buffalo Bayou Park, which began in 2012, include restoring the bayou's original meanders to improve water quality as well as the reconstruction of the park's gravel trails into a 10-foot-wide concrete system of hike and bike trails.
"We understand that our best defense against extreme climate events and natural disasters has to be grounded in our most common natural feature, which is our bayou system, our small rivers that cross the city of Houston, and those things that are connected to those small rivers, our wetlands and the surrounding areas," Parker said. "Only through a vibrant natural landscape can we combat natural disasters like hurricanes, our annual flooding and issues of water pollution."
Maintaining water quality and preventing the flow of trash into Houston's bayou system was highlighted as a significant priority for the city — and for the project.
"Water quality is a key concern in Houston along our bayous and we continually work — as our storms become more intense — to preserve water quality from storm water runoff and to protect our homes from flooding," Parker said.
"We are going to pick up litter on a weekly basis," said Roksan Okan-Vick, executive director of the Houston Parks Board. Guy Hagstette, program manager for Buffalo Bayou Park, pointed to the booms and boat crews used to "capture and remove tons of trash before it can permanently harm the bayou or make its way to Galveston Bay."
Parker made it clear that although clean water was a major part of the city's projects, the outcome would bring about even greater changes.
"There's a benefit to the work we're doing on clean water, and that is by opening up this green infrastructure to naturally cleanse and slow storm water, we also open up more green space — more park space — to the community, and there are a range of ancillary benefits," she said. "We believe that these kinds of projects are good for the environment, they're good for the fiscal health of the City of Houston because of the impact of flooding, but they're also good for the physical health of our community and the more we can do to connect young people to the outdoors and green space pays dividends into the future."
After hearing Parker, Green, Okan-Vick and Hagstette sing the praises of the two transformative projects, McCarthy didn't seem to have much to say except to compliment the city's major parks projects.
"I think I'm just here to say, 'yahoo!'," the EPA official said. "I think it's great to have the collaboration here on this site because it really recognizes that this is one of the City of Houston's most vital resources."