Mexico Cancels Controversial Resort Project

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico announced Friday that it is cancelling
provisional permits for an enormous, Cancun-sized resort planned
for the Baja California shoreline in front of a protected coral
reef, a project that environmentalists said threatened an area that
is a model for environmental recovery.

The announcement is meant to protect the Cabo Pulmo reserve, the
only coral reef in the Gulf of California, a formerly over-fished
area where marine life has exploded following a decision almost two
decades ago by local residents to stop commercial fishing and
develop ecotourism activities instead.

But in 2008, federal authorities granted initial permits for a
Spanish developer to build about 30,000 hotel rooms, golf courses
and a marina on a strip of seaside desert about a 90-minute drive
northeast of the Los Cabos resorts. Two years later, in the face of
widespread protests, authorities added a series of conditions,
including extensive studies of ocean currents, to ensure that
sediment, runoff and waste form the planned resort wouldn't harm
the reef, parts of it just 30 feet (10 meters) offshore.

Calderon said Friday the permits were being withdrawn because
the developer, which ran into financial problems during Europe's
financial crisis, hadn't proved the 9,400-acre (3,800-hectare)
resort, known as Cabo Cortes, wouldn't harm the environment.

"Because of its size, we have to be absolutely certain that it
(the project) wouldn't cause irreversible damage, and that absolute
certainty simply hasn't been proved," Calderon said. "To sum it
up, Cabo Cortes won't be built."

Fighting the planned resort became one of the main causes of
Mexican environmentalists, who staged protests in which
demonstrators paraded with tropical fish cutouts, tossed a giant
life-ring into the sea and staged petition drives to stop the
project.

Omar Vidal, head of the environmental group WWF Mexico, called
Friday's announcement "an important victory, because it shows that
when the public organizes, it can achieve great things."

"This sets an important precedent and sends an important
message to Mexican and international investors, that this type of
tourist development, based on mass scale and golf courses, is no
longer acceptable in Mexico," Vidal said.

The developers, whose firm is known as Hansa Baja Investments,
said in a press statement that they would rethink the project and
re-submit another proposal for approval. Calderon said during his
speech Friday they could do so, but should consult scientists,
inhabitants and environmentalists in the planning process.

"The company will submit a new project developed with the
advice of qualified environmental advisers ... which will be
compatible with the conservation and preservation of the area's
environment," according to the statement, distributed by a public
relations firm.

The project's original developers had included Madrid-based
builder Hansa Urbana, which suffered financial setbacks in part
because it overextended in building resorts along the Spanish
coast.

But the PR firm Llorente and Cuenca said the project was now
owned by "several private investors."

In the past, supporters of the project had said most of the
resort's land would be left in its natural state.

Calderon said the case showed that "the federal government is
sensitive to both the concerns of the inhabitants of the area and
the scientific and environmentalist communities, as well as to the
needs for legal certainty that any investment requires."

The fight against the resort has lasted for years, with
environmentalists suggesting collusion between government
regulators and the developers.

Vidal said that "while this is a victory, this is not the time
to let our guard down, because there are other similar projects in
the pipeline."

Calderon has said he wanted to be remembered as an
environmentalist president, and during his term strict rules were
enacted against projects that alter coastlines by removing mangrove
swamps, though enforcement has been spotty.

Seventeen years ago, Cabo Pulmo's shallow reef was, like many in
Mexico, degraded by commercial fishing boats, which often dragged
their anchors or nets through the coral, to get at valuable species
that lived there.

In 1995, with support from a local university, the government
declared the reef a protected area and later upgraded it to marine
park status.

The effort was aided by local residents, who largely transformed
their economy from fishing to ecotourism, and the amount of life on
the reef blossomed. A study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California found that the biomass at the Cabo Pulmo
reef - the total weight of living species - rose by 460 percent.

The reef is now so healthy that fish migrate from it to neighboring areas, helping fishermen there.


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