by Jerry Kurtyka
BOTA NEPA SCOPING PUBLIC MEETING
On Wednesday December 12th the General Services Administration (GSA) hosted a public scoping meeting for proposed alternatives to upgrade the Bridge of the Americas (BOTA) Port of Entry (POE). This is part of the NEPA process and is the second such meeting for the proposed BOTA rebuild.
The Sierra Club participated in the scoping and in a press conference organized by County Commissioner David Stout in whose District the port is located. The Club was there in solidarity with the neighborhood associations and community groups affected by some of the proposed design alternatives, in particular the primary affected neighborhoods of the Chamizal, San Xavier, Washington-Delta, Valle Verde, and San Juan. There were about 40 people in attendance.
BOTA was originally built in 1967 to handle car, truck, and pedestrian traffic as a free Port of Entry, the only such in town. Then came NAFTA and increased commercial truck traffic.
No one disputes that the port is at the end of its service life but the alternatives for its future have enormous impact on local marginalized neighborhoods and schools that have borne the burden of increased diesel emissions and noise. We see this as a classic case of environmental Injustice.
The GSA presented four design alternatives for the Port of Entry. Only one of these alternatives involves no commercial traffic, i.e., only car and pedestrian traffic. This is the alternative favored by the community groups. The other three alternatives will create a massive increase in truck capacity for the port and one of them requires that the town’s only major performance arena, the historic and beloved County Coliseum, be demolished.
The context for all of this intersects with plans of the local power elite to widen Interstate 10 (that is fed by the Port of Entry) and to build a new downtown arena. Widening Interstate 10 as proposed will also require demolition of approximately 15-30 properties and add pollution, noise, and heat island affect, further exacerbating the environmental Injustice.
This is the classic case of a so-called “wicked problem” where everything is connected to everything and is why residents pushed for – at the least – a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement process before deciding upon a design alternative for BOTA. Residents also asked for a Health Impact Assessment that identifies pollution sources and identifies health linkages if they exist. GSA said it cannot do as part of this process.
Attendees expressed concern that the comment period ends in January, not leaving sufficient time to study the design proposals and express their views to the GSA. They asked for more time for them to comment, but the GSA representative balked at this request, saying it would have a negative domino effect on downstream project milestones. At the end of the meeting, it was left undecided but the GSA rep agreed to take it under advisement.
Pending notification of an extended comment period, comments may be emailed until Jan. 16, 2024, to BOTA.NEPAcomments@gsa.gov