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Many members of our board own property on the bayou. We’d be crazy if we didn’t have property owners along the bayou on our board.We’ve had to work really closely with the property owners. We have strict policies and procedures. If they have a conflict, they can’t vote on a certain issue. Everyone on our board knows what everyone else owns.” In fact, several of the partnership’s financial contributors and board members do own land along the bayou, the most prominent being Halliburton/Brown & Root, the giant oilfield services conglomerate. All of the landowners stand to profit from bayou improvements, but none of the other board members had Garver’s influence on planning and lobbying for the proposal, and few purchased land so recently. Another land holder who stands to benefit greatly from specific aspects of the plan is multimillionaire developer Richard Weekley. The bayou master plan calls for removal of a bridge called the Elysian Viaduct, which connects with Highway 59 and serves as a vital link to downtown for poor East End communities. Olson says the partnership wants the bridge removed because it’s falling apart and its absence would clear room for green space and parks. But it’s worth noting that the bridge bisects a 12-acre plot on the bayou owned, according to county records, by a company called 12.3 Buffalo Bayou LP, a real estate concern chartered by Weekley and two associates. One of the top Republican political donors in the state, Weekley is perhaps best known for founding the Texans for Lawsuit Reform political action committee, and for heading the business community’s Houston Quality of Life Coalition. He also sits on a Buffalo Bayou Partnership planning committee, according to group documents. The removal of the bridge would open for development Weekley’s holdings, land that’s already increased in value 82 percent since 1998, according to county tax records. Weekley didn’t return calls from the Observer seeking comment, but said through a spokesperson he had no involvement with Buffalo Bayou Partnership, aside from several meetings he was asked to join. Olson noted many of the land owners, including Garver, have promised to donate right-of-way space on their property for Buffalo Bayou projects, including parks and bike trailsspace the Partnership or city would otherwise have to pay for. But records indicate that not everyone connected with the Partnership planned to donate right-of-way. In a 2000 proposal to TxDOT, the Partnership planned to pay more than $500,000 to purchase right-of-way from five land ownersone of which was Weekley’s 12.3 Buffalo Bayou LPfor a proposed bike trail, according to city documents obtained by the Observer, though the project was later nixed due to design problems. Few of the nearly 30 sources interviewed for this story would speak on the record about Garver’s apparent conflicts of interest, fearing political and economic retribution from the Houston business establishment. But many sources privately expressed concern over Garver’s land grabs and indicated that many people within Houston’s business community knew of and consented to Garver’s activitysome sources said it was viewed as compensation for Garver’s good work along the bayou. Barry Reese, former chairman of the Houston Bicycle Advisory Committee, harshly criticized the Partnership. Though they were supposed to be working together, Reese had several run-ins with the Partnership over proposed bike trails along the bayou.”It became clear that this was only benefiting one man or a small group,” he said. “For me, it seems like a grab for cash and … a grab for land that will be entirely valuable.” Tlying to convince Houstonians that Buffalo Bayou could be their version of the Baltimore waterfront isn’t cheap, apparently. In all, the “Buffalo Bayou and Beyond” master plan required roughly 18 months and $1.4 million to put together.The city, county and Partnership pitched in $350,000 each, and the Harris County Flood Control District added $400,000, meaning the master plan was almost entirely publicly funded, even as tight budgets have cut continued on page 16 12/6/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1