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Portions of Buffalo Bayou, as envisioned in this sketch from “Buffalo Bayou and Beyond,” would resemble San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Bayou, continued from page 7 funds for most local government endeavors. Despite the high cost, the master plan, created for the Partnership by Boston-based Thompson Design Group, is a remarkably frizzy document. It contains few specific action plans, timelines, feasibility studies, or plans to obtain funding. At this point, the Partnership figures $500 million will come from federal flood control funds, with city, county and private contributions filling in the rest. Even its harshest critics swoon at some aspects of the planwhat’s not to like about turning the Northside Sewage Treatment Plant into botanical gardens? But there are serious questions about the project’s feasibility. Beneath all the hoopla, the proposal essentially has three components: creation of parks and public art facilities, development of mixed-income housing, and enhanced flood-control. In addition to the botanical gardens, other highlights include an open-air symphony hall on its own island; ecology parks on each bank; recreational boat launches; a downtown amphitheater; reconfigured bayou crossings; a Commerce Street promenade; a reworked Allen’s Landing with boathouse, visitor center and restaurant; a series of west-side wetlands; and a bevy of mixed-income housing developments. That’s just a sampling; the design also reconfigures highway interchanges, refurbishes \(or, in some cases, To some it seems a bit pie-in-thesky; to others it’s simply a boondoggle for developers. “This is a development plan,” says Clark Martinson, a planner with HNTB Engineering who’s worked on several bayou projects. “It’s a truly fantastical vision.” He said he was disappointed that development, rather than park land, dominates the proposal. He seemed skeptical the current proposals would ever become reality.”That plan is just a plan to get people to think differently about the bayou,” he said. Two other critics echoed Martinson’s view that the plan favors economic over environmental development. In other words, they said, the plan is more San Antonio Riverwalk than Austin Town Lake. And they wondered why the plan contains nothing to reduce pollution in the watershed. Critics also cite the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s poor track record with other, less ambitious, publicly-funded projects along the bayou. The City of Houston and Harris County currently contract with Buffalo Bayou Partnership for help building bayou bike trails. Under those contracts, according to city records, the Partnership has received $60,000 a year \($30,000 each from the city and counof trails along the bayou, a mandate that includes meeting with community groups, obtaining right-of-way com mitments from neighbors, contracting consultants and creating a newsletter. In this equation, the Partnership is essentially a middle man, a role for which the Partnership has been paid a total of $420,000 during the past seven years. It’s a nice gig. Yet hike-and-bike trail projects along the bayou have stumbled in recent years, according to city documents and several sources. One example is the trail project that was supposed to run from Baker Street to North York Street on the bayou’s north bank, a project sponsored and planned by the Partnership. Community relations, budgeting, and securing landowner support are Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s responsibilities on this project, according to city contracts. Yet the project is over-budget, and has suffered delays and modifications after local landowners refused to cede rightof-way for the trail. One particular right-of-way mix up involving Union Pacific Railroad forced planners to shorten the trail and “was probably an oversight by Buffalo Bayou Partnership,” said Mark Patterson, project manager with TxDOT’s Houston district. These hiccups have already cost Houston taxpayers and beg the question: If the Partnership had trouble with a $2 million hike-and-bike trail, how well will it handle an $800 million, 20-year public works adventure? For her part, Olson says the bike trails are mainly city projects that the 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/6/02