An airport in Chihuahua is nearing completion after a 12-year delay.
The Aeropuerto Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon Airport) in Creel, about 260 kilometers southwest of Chihuahua city, began construction in 2010 and was halted after progressing only about 5% due to legal action by indigenous communities.
However, the conflict has been resolved after the communities reached an agreement with state authorities, state Interior Minister César Jáuregui said.
The airport should be finished by April and could then open for operations by the end of December, according to Innovation and Economic Development Minister María Angélica Granados.
“The construction is being resumed … the airport is already being finished, but the control tower seems to need some work … it could even take the whole year for it to be in shape to operate at 100% … we are expecting the airport to start operating at the end of December or at the beginning of January 2023,” she said.
Granados added that the legal impediment was resolved with communal landowners shortly after Governor María Eugenia Campos took office in September and described the initiatives that helped assuage the communities.
“We are working with the communities and the state government through the Innovation Ministry, the Rural Development Ministry and other ministries that have various programs to offer these communities, such as productive projects, soft loans, training and other initiatives. They can help not only the economic development in those communities but also contribute to the airport and expand tourism in the area,” she said.
The airport will be operated by the government of Chihuahua through a federal concession, but that responsibility could go to a third party. Granados said that 11 companies had expressed an interest in operating the terminal.
The former head of the Innovation and Economic Development Ministry, Antonio Fernández Domínguez, said in August that the airport would transport 80,000 passengers per year in the first five years of operation, which could grow to 250,000 passengers per year.
He added that the airport could operate flights to Monterrey, Nuevo León; Torreón, Coahuila; Juárez and Chihuahua city, as well as a tourist route from Los Cabos, Baja California Sur.
Fernández said at the time that a 2014 legal demand from the town of Repechique, obliging the Chihuahua government to pay them 65 million pesos (US $4.9 million in 2014) had been resolved, but it is unclear whether this was the demand that Jáuregui and Granados were referring to.
The community has been locked in battles over access to the fund for years, the newspaper Sin Embargo reported in a 2020 article about the murder of indigenous activist Antonio Montes Enríquez. Montes was a central figure in protesting the airport and had been planning a protest at the site over the issue when he was killed, the community’s legal representative Mónica Gretel Ruiz Anchondo told Sin Embargo.
Creel is in the Tarahumara Sierra, an area largely populated by the Rarámuri people. The town was historically dependent on logging but now has a mining industry and is a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town) and tourist destination.