Development or Ecology? That Is the Question
By Jesús Aguado
A group of environmentalists headed by César Arias and Mario Hernández and entrepreneurs in the city are in contention over their particular interests. On one hand, the environmentalists are trying to avoid the disorganized growth of the city without legal protection of flora and fauna at the Picachos-Támbula and Allende dam area. On the other hand, the entrepreneurs want San Miguel to grow economically and create employment for 1,600 that Sanmiguelenses demand annually. That is the reason why the Business Coordinating Council (CCESMA) issued a document against appointing the dam area as a Natural Protected Area (NPA).
There are records that Cante A.C. has submitted documents before different governmental offices since May 22, 1990, in order to achieve preservation of Picachos and Támbula. Nevertheless, it was not until two years ago, when the Ecologist Party local deputy, Jorge Arenas, visited the Presa Allende and proposed “the recovery of the Presa Allende” to the entrepreneurs of San Miguel in order to develop a touristic attraction for San Miguel. That was easy for Arenas to suggest because his group recovered the Palote dam in León, which is now a part of the Metropolitan Park (a natural protected area with 337 hectares, of which 85 percent is the dam). Currently, all kinds of tourist venues and activities are located in that park: restaurants, a palapa, boat rides, and bird watching. The annual International Hot Air Balloon Festival also takes place there, generating revenue of over 500 million pesos. The San Miguel entrepreneurs wanted something like that in Presa Allende.
According to the environmentalists, they have promoted the appointing of the Picachos and Támbula as an NPA since 1992, but they stated that after the Guanajuato Institute of Ecology proposed conducting a study to determine if the Presa Allende was worthy of the appointment, they did not find enough favorable elements. For that reason they decided to include Támbula and the Picachos and name it as an ecological corridor. The presentations of the study results started in April this year, and an exclusive presentation was offered to the entrepreneurs, who agreed to the idea in early July this year.
The studies found 219 different species of flora divided in four parts: encino, scrubs, lowland forest, and meadows. With respect to the fauna, the divisions included amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, including wild cats, pumas, foxes, and white tail deer. If the area gets the appointment as an NPA, the animals and plants would be shielded against all kinds of disturbance in more than 50 hectares, equal to a third of the municipal land.
In a presentation of the results, David Guzmán, a representative of the Ecology Institute also commented that if these zones were protected by the state, ladrilleras (kilns for firing bricks) would no longer be allowed in the area, and those currently operating would have to be relocated. Moreover, he advised that appointing these zones as NPAs could put the project connecting the road to Querétaro with the road to Celaya at risk, “but the Institute would give favor to the interest,” he said. If these places receive the protected designation, all local regulations will be discarded, and only state laws will apply to the zones.
The studies conducted found a lack of regulation of the land in housing developments and in the touristic sector. “There is a violation of the law,” the document stated. The study also found illegal extraction of petrous material, pollution of water, and clandestine felling of trees. The company hired to conduct the study concluded also that some tourist activities benefit only certain entrepreneurs and construction of developments is without benefit to communities surrounding the area.
If the areas are designated as NPAs, changes in land use without authorization from the state government and the construction of new housing developments will be prohibited. With authorization from the state government, however, industrial activities could be developed in the area. The extraction of petrous material and wildlife from the area will be forbidden or regulated. Fishing will also be regulated. On the other hand, environmental investigation or sustainable tourism will be permitted.
The Ecology Institute will regulate recreational and touristic activities, and regulations from the National Commission of Water will control the use of water.
The ecologists remark that the entrepreneurs are only taking care of their own interests in order to become wealthy and are interested in building hotels, restaurants, houses, and more projects for their own benefit. The environmentalists assumed that it this is the reason why the Business Coordinating Council voiced an opinion against the project. If the area is protected, they will not be allowed to complete their projects. Currently, there are eight opinions in favor of the NPA and eight against the appointment. One of those is from the Nautical Club of Salamanca and from El Center, which states that appointments of the Allende dam and Picachos-Támbula natural protected areas would be separated. They also commented that the recreational touristic activities currently emerging at the Presa Allende—kayaking, sport fishing, cycling, camping, and others—ought to be respected, as well as the necessary infrastructure that all these activities require for providing the service. “And that will provide the economic and social development that San Miguel is looking for.”
Other opinions against the NPA were those from the CCESMA headed by Ricardo Garrido, as well as from the Association of Entrepreneurs represented by Fernando Balderas. Both opinions are exactly the same, expressing their nonconformity with “the delimitation of the area” because it does not meet the stipulations of the Ecologic and Territorial Plan or the Economic Plan of San Miguel de Allende. They expressed their commitment and disposition to attend meetings called by the state authorities with the society and members of the environmental associations.
Ricardo Garrido, president of the CCESMA, told Atención that his organization is not against appointing the zone as an NPA but is against the established area. He also commented that all the entrepreneurs in San Miguel de Allende need to know the management plan for the area in advance before giving an opinion in favor of any document because their organization has the commitment to keep providing the employment that San Miguel needs and to support the economic and social development of the city. Garrido also commented that San Miguel will keep growing and will need more connection roads, yet if the area is appointed as an NPA, those would be unthinkable.
CCESMA has also said that these appointments could put the construction of the Querétaro-Celaya road at risk because it would cross through the NPA. However, Ricardo Villarreal (elected mayor and main promotor of the road) commented that the road is considered in the plan. The local authorities have not taken a stand nor given an opinion on the topic. Villarreal, who will start his administration as mayor on October 10 of this year, commented that he needs to know more about the project. After that, he will be able to give an opinion in favor of or against it.