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U.S., Mexico inaugurate Binational "Border Gateway to Nature" Park

Posted on January 31, 2014

U.S., Mexico inaugurate Binational

Binational Park built utilizing trash recovered from the Tijuana River Valley

On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) Deputy General Manager Jose Mario Sanchez, Mexico's Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) Delegate Alfonso Blancafort, 4 Walls International President Steve Wright, San Diego Foundation's Vice President of Environmental Initiatives Emily Young, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve Manager Chris Peregrin, and the Center for Civic Engagement, formally inaugurated the binational "Border Gateway to Nature" project.

Staff from local, state, and federal elected official offices attended, including staff from Senators Boxer and Feinstein. The Executive Officer and Vice Chair of the Regional Water Quality Control Board attended, as well as staff from the IBWC, USFWS, Border Patrol, US Navy, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (NOAA), California State Parks, City of San Diego, County of San Diego, and City of Imperial Beach. The following NGOs also participated in the festivities: Tijuana Calidad de Vida (Mexico), Pronatura (Mexico), Surfrider Foundation, Earth Island Institute, Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association, 4 Walls International, San Diego Foundation, and WildCoast.   

The "Border Gateway to Nature" project was funded by the San Diego Foundation and EPA's Border 2020 program through a US $45,000 grant awarded to 4 Walls International. The non-governmental organization built the binational park using trash reclaimed from the Tijuana River Valley and adjacent canyons. The project made use of thousands of discarded plastic bottles stuffed with trash for the construction of park benches and other infrastructure, which reduced the cost of raw materials such as cement. Blumenfeld recalled that he met 4 Walls President Steve Wright in Tijuana. He encouraged attendees to visit the house that was built using trash, which has been part of the inspiration for this project.

"This park is an example of what we do. The reclaimed materials on the walls, where you can see the reflection of the daylight, remind us of the waste that crosses the river and that trash can be converted into construction materials. The more we do this, the more we will improve the environment," Blumenfeld added. 

Wright said: "seeing this border, this fence, is a reason for working together and for that, I'm very grateful." He asked: Why convert trash into construction blocks? Why transform trash into parks? The answer is simple, Wright said, "Because it is a creative way of bringing people closer to nature, to really improve the residents' quality of life and provide a solution to our common local issues with solid waste."

The bricks consist of plastic and foam, which make up 70% of the waste encountered in the river valley. 4 Walls International transformed this trash into outstanding projects such as schools, houses, and parks.

 Sanchez, BECC Deputy General Manager, the organization that oversaw and managed the project, said that this year the binational institution and the North American Development Bank are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their creation under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We try to support the federal governments of the United States and Mexico in developing and carrying out border environmental projects and I am very grateful to be part of that," Sanchez said. "Every day, there are people like you working on binational environmental issues, and that is a great thing to celebrate," he added.

On behalf of Mexico's Environmental Agency (SEMARNAT), Blancafort said that "following the leadership of Secretary Juan Jose Guerra Abud, the Baja California division has worked side by side with the EPA to provide a proactive guide to the Border 2020 Program" and make California-Baja California one of the most dynamic areas. He said that "these actions have been possible due to the commitment of both countries, as the BECC, NADB and the Advisory Council for Sustainable Development are part of the border region's success story."

SEMARNAT has been involved in the river cleanup effort through its Temporary Employment Program and has invested US $1 million in nearly 40 projects that have benefitted 2,000 people to make this a better, cleaner, and safer region.  The EPA Region 9 Administrator explained that the Border 2020 Program helped "remove 770 tons of trash, dispose of more than 12 million contaminated scrap tires, and connect more than 8.5 million people living on the Mexican side to new water and wastewater collection lines." He also said he sees the EPA "as a funding organization, as it has provided US $560 million in grant subsidies to support solid waste management projects."

Young, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives for the San Diego Foundation, said that "what this project has shown is that by working together, the government, the community, and the public can ensure the protection of the environment for the benefit of the people."

During the event, Blumenfeld announced the award of US $461,368 in grants to seven environmental projects along the Arizona and California border. The funds were awarded in partnership with BECC, under the bi-national U.S.-Mexico Environmental Program: Border 2020 and will be matched by an additional $354,746 in funding from the recipient organizations. The projects include the restoration of the Tijuana River Estuary, expansion of an oil recycling program, and several efforts to monitor air pollution in the region. Grants were awarded to the following organizations:
- Imperial County Air Pollution Control District, US $ 98,800
- Pronatura-Noroeste A.C., US $ 98,500 
- Tijuana Calidad de Vida, US $ 53,610
- Arizona State University, US $ 67,314 
- Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, US $ 63,621 
- Asociación de Protección y Seguridad Ambiental (APSA), US $63,015 
- Used Oil Collection and Management in Nogales, Sonora US $16,508

These grants will help improve quality of life, create a healthier river, and divert recyclable materials from landfills, shared lands and rivers in communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Coverage of the event:

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