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Lake Bacalar in southern Quintana Roo. Lake Bacalar in southern Quintana Roo.

Citizens protest residential project in protected area of Quintana Roo

The environmental protection agency revoked previously 'irrevocable' protection

A conservation area in the Bacalar region of southern Quintana Roo is under threat by a 950-home residential development, claim local citizens who have filed a complaint against the project.

Arrivée Lagon Bacalar will include condominiums, a commercial area and 400 lots for residential construction in Buenavista, a community on the shores of Lake Bacalar, also known as the lake of seven colors.

The development is being promoted online as an eco-residential project with “minimal environmental impact” but its eco-friendly credentials have been called into question even before construction begins because four hectares of forest have been cleared for the construction of roads.

The project is to be built in a conservation area that was “suddenly eliminated” from federal Environment Ministry (Semarnat) records, according to a report by the newspaper Milenio.

Residents first noticed last November that workers with the real estate development company Depi del Caribe were falling trees and removing other vegetation on a property that adjoins the Condominios La Fe residential estate, which was built 20 years ago next to 135 hectares of land that was designated as a conservation area.

The clearing of jungle prompted some residents of that estate, and others, to file a complaint with the federal environmental protection agency Profepa against the developer, as well as people promoting the development on its behalf.

“Through the [Condominios La Fe] supervisory council we filed a complaint with Profepa … for the clearing [of jungle] for 10-meter-wide roads,” members of a Bacalar conservation group said.

“They argued that [the roads] already existed but that’s not the case. … Profepa determined that the affected area was [only] four hectares … but that interrupts the entire biological corridor …”

They said Profepa imposed a fine of just 100,000 pesos (US $4,900) against two people for the infraction.

The environmental protection agency has not moved to stop construction of the project, in which vacant lots are being offered for pre-sale at prices starting at 1.2 million pesos (US $58,700), and doesn’t show any intention of doing so.

When the Condominios La Fe residents were preparing their complaint they discovered that the two-decades-old adjoining conservation area had disappeared from Semarnat records “without any explanation,” Milenio said.

The project is located near the route of the Maya Train.
The project is located near the route of the Maya Train.

The newspaper said it was told by Semarnat that protection of the conservation area was “definitively revoked” in April 2012 “but didn’t provide more information about the reasons for the revocation.”

The annulment occurred even though a 2001 Semarnat resolution said that protection and conservation of natural resources in the area where Arrivée Lagon Bacalar is to be built are irrevocable.

Although the revocation removes one barrier to the building of the residential project, the complainants argue that its construction would violate Quintana Roo environmental regulations, under which the shores of Lake Bacalar are incompatible with additional human settlements, hotels and other infrastructure. State government policies are designed to protect the Bacalar area – which is growing in popularity as a tourism destination but has not (yet) been overrun with visitors – and maintain low population density levels.

Residents of Condominios La Fe are angry at the failure of federal authorities to intervene but determined to continue their fight.

“The company doesn’t have permission to go ahead with its development let alone deforest the jungle,” said Nicolás Uribe, one of the residents.

“If nobody protects the jungle, if the authorities are not interested in the biodiversity and fauna, we’ll defend it because Bacalar is a very delicate ecosystem.”

The value of real estate in Bacalar began rising in 2019 as investors sought to secure land near the route of the Maya Train railroad.

According to Enrique Jardel, an academic and member of the board of the Commission for Natural Protected Areas, the federal government has been guilty of favoring economic development over the conservation of natural resources in areas across Mexico that are supposed to be protected.

With reports from Milenio 

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