The Secretariat of the Environment (Semarnat) has granted conditional approval for the Santa Lucía airport but a group opposed to the project argues that construction cannot yet begin because other studies remain outstanding and injunctions it obtained are still in force.
Semarnat announced yesterday that it had approved the environmental impact statement for the US $4.1-billion project, which will be built by the Secretariat of Defense (Sedena) at the Santa Lucía Air Force Base in México state.
The department determined that the project will not compromise ecosystems in the area nor will it generate impacts that upset the ecological balance as long as environmental protection measures are put in place.
The authorization is valid for a period of 33 years during which four stages of the project are planned. Completion of the first stage, which will allow the airport to open, is scheduled for 2022.
Before construction can begin, Semarnat said that Sedena must prepare a range of preventative measures that will avoid negative impacts on the environment or reduce those impacts to a minimum.
They include programs to rescue and relocate flora and fauna, observe the project’s effects on birdlife, mitigate contamination of the nearby Zumpango lagoon, manage waste and monitor air quality.
To alleviate concerns that the construction and operation of the airport will threaten the local water supply, Sedena says that it will truck water in from Hidalgo during the first stage while during the latter, supply will be via an aqueduct from the Mezquital valley in the same state.
Semarnat said the defense department must also establish an environmental monitoring committee whose members will include academic institutions and state and municipal governments.
But after Semarnat’s announcement, the #NoMásDerroches (No More Waste) Collective, made up of civil society organization, law firms and more than 100 citizens, warned that environmental authorization “is only one of numerous requirements” established by the federal judiciary that must be met before construction of the airport can begin.
The group explained that 11 suspension orders against the project remain valid.
“Construction can’t be started until the safety, aeronautic viability, economic analysis, cultural [and] archaeological studies have been complied with . . .” said Gerardo Carrasco, director of litigation strategy at Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, one of the collective’s members.
The lawyer said it was unclear how long it might take for those studies to be completed.
“. . . What’s relevant at the moment is that suspensions by several courts are in force and construction of the airport can’t start even though the environmental issue has been approved. Semarnat can’t hand down rulings in other matters . . .” Carrasco said.
“We maintain that from an economic and technical point of view it’s not viable to build an airport at Santa Lucía. The most appropriate thing to protect the Mexican economy is to resume the work at Texcoco . . .” he added.
The #NoMásDerroches Collective filed a total of 147 injunction requests that could hold up or threaten construction of the new airport.
In addition to winning injunctions against the Santa Lucía project, the collective last month obtained an order that instructs federal authorities not to make any changes to the site of the partially built abandoned airport in Texcoco, also in México state.
Carrasco said at the time that “we believe that it’s legally possible to raise Texcoco again.”
Following a legally questionable public consultation last October, President López Obrador canceled the previous government’s signature infrastructure project on the grounds that it was corrupt, too expensive, not needed and being built on land that was sinking.
He says the Santa Lucía project will solve congestion problems at the current Mexico City airport more quickly and will cost much less than the previous government’s plan.
The president said today that the government will respect the legal process to have the injunctions against the project lifted but nevertheless called on the judiciary to resolve the matter as soon as possible.
“. . . Justice should be prompt . . . because we’re being held up . . . and we want to start,” López Obrador said.
“. . . Maybe what our opponents want is for us not to carry out [the project] in a timely manner but we’re going to achieve it . . [while] respecting the whole legal process.”