Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Sunday, September 27, 2009

CEDO Victorious in Sandy Beach Resorts Marina Controversy

After three years of legal battles led by CEDO (the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans), commercial divers from Puerto Penasco and the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) has determined that the Sandy Beach Resorts Marina could not be authorized to continue. Located between Sandy Beach and La Cholla, the proposed project would have altered two habitats of great ecologic and economic importance: a coastal wetland (Estero La Cholla) and the rocky reef in front of Sandy Beach.

The basis for SEMARNAT's decision was the lack of hard scientific evidence to state that the project would not have significant impacts on the environment. This ruling will stop the destruction of a shallow rocky reef that has immense ecological and social importance, including being used as a marine reserve by local commercial divers to promote sustainable fisheries, elevated levels of biodiversity, presence of several protected species and its proximity to the Upper Gulf Biosphere Reserve.

The decision affects plans for "Village E" and "Village G" of the Sandy Beach Resorts Master Plan (see image above). Included in the plan for Village E were: An External Marina, Internal Marina, Condominiums, Town Center With Retail/Commercial, Timeshares, Hotel/Health Club, Yacht Club/Restaurants, and a Beach Club. Village G, just north of Village E, would include: Large Craft Marina Residential; Small Craft Marina; Residential Lots; and a Dry Dock Boat Storage Area.

According to CEDO the the developer's plan would have impacted:
  • A Marine Biosphere Reserve: The Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta.
  • 15 protected species, including green sea turtles, dolphins, whale sharks and scallop.
  • 18 species of commercial importance, including shrimp, blue crab and octopus.
  • Patterns of sedimentation on Sandy Beach.
  • Currents in Cholla Bay and Sandy Beach.
  • Health of adjacent waters, through the contamination associated with boats.
  • The sport fishery, through increased fishing pressure.

In January of 2006, CEDO, along with researchers, fishermen, and members of the Tohono O’odham nation, petitioned the environmental authorities to not authorize the Marina project. After reviewing the analysis of the specialists and taking into account the opinions of the various interested sectors of the community, SEMARNAT determined that the project’s environmental impact study was inadequate and that the project had very serious environmental and social implications. For these reasons, SEMARNAT recommended that the developer withdraw the study.

Subsequently, Sandy Beach Resorts withdrew its request and suspended the authorization process for the project. This victory for the fishing community, native peoples and the environment did not last long. The developer modified the project and renewed the application for approval of the environmental impact study.

The new proposal claimed to study the actual impacts of the new project and proposed actions to mitigate them. Nevertheless, according to CEDO, many of those improvements were not real and the mitigation actions were inadequate. For example, Sandy Beach Resorts stated that the area of the project does not include Estero La Cholla, yet they proposed to use the estero to dump the material dredged up in the construction of two marinas: a “residential” marina and a freshwater marina.

A review committee provided to SEMARNAT an evaluation of the project and recommended that it NOT be approved. Also, internationally renowned Mexican researchers, the Cooperative of Divers of Puerto Peñasco, winners of the National Conservation Award in Mexico 2003, communicated their comments and requests to the Secretary.

With SEMARNAT's new ruling against the developer, it appears that CEDO et al have won another victory. It remains to be seen whether or not Sandy Beach Resorts will try again.

CEDO is committed to finding ways for Puerto Peñasco to develop and grow in an orderly manner that guards its natural resources and those who depend upon them. It is indispensable that those who plan projects that affect critical habitats and/or economic activities join with all interested parties and together find a way to minimize negative impacts to the environment.

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