Although the city of San Benito bills itself as the Resaca City due to the waterway that meanders through the town, there are other parts of Cameron County that boast the historic channels cut into the landscape by the Rio Grande over the centuries, among them the Brownsville, Rancho Viejo, Los Fresnos and Bayview areas.
A resaca is an old river channel created by floods that carved out the Rio Grande delta area more than century ago before dams began to restrict the river’s flow. Most of the resaca systems today were formed by Mother Nature, but some of them have been created by developers building residential subdivisions to enhance property values.
One thing is for sure, though, and that’s wherever they are found, they do beautify the area, attract a variety of birds and harbor a variety of fishes, including gar, bass, catfish, carp and perch. Even alligators have staked out territory in rural resacas in Cameron County.
Some property owners like to leave a resaca bank in its natural state, while others prefer to build retaining walls. Why the conversion from a natural look to an artificial barrier? People involved in the business of building retaining walls and property owners said there are two main reasons. One is to stop erosion and the second is aesthetics.
Fernando Garcia, a veteran retaining wall builder, said these walls help stop dirt from being washed into the water. They also make a backyard a lot more attractive, he said. Once a retaining wall is in place, many property owners hire him to construct waterside decks and sitting areas.
Bayview resident Remberto Arteaga said he had a retaining wall built for a number of reasons. One is to stop the water from going over the property, which takes soil away as it recedes, he said. Another function of his retaining wall is to keep alligators and other critters from coming into his backyard.
The Bayview resaca system is known for having a good gator population, perhaps due to its proximity to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which is known for a healthy population of the large reptiles.
Arteaga also said the aesthetic part is third on his list. He describes the investment he made about 10 years ago with building a retaining as priceless. Arteaga said he paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 a linear foot back then, compared to today’s prices of $120 or more per linear foot.
Garcia said when he started building the walls in the 80s, the going rate was about $80 to $90 a linear foot. “There used to be about a dozen of us who built these walls here in Brownsville,” he said. “I will bet there are maybe six of us today.”
Joey Lopez of Brownsville said he had his second wall built by Matt Construction. He also said a wall helps prevent erosion and, at the same time, it makes the property more attractive.
Most walls are built with treated wood, but others invest in concrete construction to give it a longer life. However, a concrete wall costs three times as much, wall builders said. A sturdy retaining wall, built right, can last up to 20 or more years.
Creative use of either wood or concrete to add design and texture to a resaca retaining wall can take a basic erosion barrier and transform it into a decorative landscape element to enhance the look of a property.