Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Warning & Lesson for Sustainable Building in Puerto Penasco

The following article concerns a massive real estate project in La Paz, BCS, but it also serves as a lesson to runaway, irresponsible building in Rocky Point and other areas of the world located within a fragile environment.

In the case of La Paz, the Paraiso del Mar development involved the alleged wholesale destruction of mangroves and wetlands that have served for centuries as a nursery for many species of marine animals as well as a buffer for La Paz against storms (think New Orleans).

This is reminiscent of the successful (at least so far) 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) to halt the building of the Sandy Beach Resorts Marina. Except that CEDO managed to nip that in the bud last year, whereas much of the destruction caused by development at La Paz's Paraiso del Mar has already taken place.

Keep this story in mind as you ponder the possible scenarios for development in Rocky Point. Will we be wise, or will we be simply greedy?

The photo is an aerial of La Paz, clearly showing El Mogote, the peninsula upon which the Paraiso del Mar is being developed. You can find more information about the possible impacts of irresponsible building there in this Harvard study. You can find the source for this story at Peninsular Digital.

Mexico's Federal Court of Fiscal and Administrative Justice recently ruled that SEMARNAT (the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources), erroneously authorized the building of the massive Paraiso del Mar development on a spit of land across from the city of La Paz, BCS, and has declared that the environmental impact statement for the project is null and void. The court's decision means that all construction at the resort must stop immediately.

Guardianes del Agua AC, Centro Mexicano de Derecho Amiental (Cemda) and Greenpeace Mexico had sued the developer to halt the project, citing the fragility of the environment at the El Mogote Peninsula and questioning the validity of the environmental impact statement.

The ruling says that SEMARNAT wrongly authorized, in an area of high environmental fragility, 3,922 houses and condos, 2,050 hotel units, a club house, shopping mall, church, two 18-hole golf courses, an outdoor marina with 535 berths, a 3.38-hectare dry dock, a town plaza and several roads. Necessary infrastructure would include desalination plants, water and sewage plants and a ferry terminal.

The property currently consists of 294 homes and 220 condominium units and the first of the two golf courses (the first golf course in the greater La Paz community).

The 11th Regional Court of Metropolitan Federal Court of Fiscal and Anministrative Justice found that SEMARNAT had not properly stated reasons for the authorization for Paraiso del Mar to proceed, failed to note in a comprehensive manner what studies the authorization were based on, approved works that are not under the low-impact rules for mangroves (under the provisions of NOM-022-SEMARNAT-2003 respective to the utilization and conservation mangroves), and did not consider that the project sits in a "closed forest" area, which prohibits removal of trees.

It should be noted that the project site is located within the Ramsar site as a wetland of international importance, is home to several endangered species such as terns, whale sharks and bottlenose dolphins. It is also an important nursery for hammerhead and whale sharks, as well as other species of marine life. The species will be affected by habitat loss resulting from tourism activities characteristic of the proposed project.

The land purchase was approved by the local Congress during the administration of former Governor of BCS Leonel Cota at a cost to the developer of 12.85 pesos per square meter.

Said Alejandro Olivera, coordinator of the campaign Greenpeace Oceans and Coasts, "Helping the damage to valuable ecosystems, SEMARNAT approved projects and placed in the hands of investors the country's natural resources. It also enables state officials to market with these resources. Leonel Cota Montano, former governor, sold land at 13 pesos per square meter benefiting Paraiso del Mar, and now following the same line, Narciso Agundez Cabo Cortes supports the project despite the inconsistencies in the environmental impact authorization granted by SEMARNAT."

Agustin Bravo, Cemda representative, said about the court's decision, "This goes to confirm what everybody knows except the speculators and corrupt officials, that illegal authorizations are revoked sooner or later. What happened with this project is a tragic example of how speculation does not generate sustainable development."

The organization noted that they received the news with satisfaction, however they urge SEMARNAT and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to comply with and enforce the ruling.

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