Angry residents threaten to stop the development Tres Santos, a project of Denver-based Black Creek Capital and its Mexican subsidiary, MIRA Black Creek.
A total blockade of access to the Punta Lobos beach construction site, led by fishing families, whose traditional beach has been all but destroyed by a poorly designed seawall fronting a half constructed “boutique hotel,” is in its third week. The fishermen, with help from local residents, have set up a camp, where they prevent any construction crews or Tres Santos representatives from passing. They have demanded public meetings with Tres Santos and MIRA but have, to date, been stood up when they gathered in Todos Santo’s public plaza for promised meetings.
On other fronts, local residents are challenging the project’s usage of scarce town water, a dubious relationship between the developers and Colorado State University (CSU), and the impact the project will have on the culture of Todos Santos.
Ironically, the project that is being marketed as “mindful living” aimed at mid-life affluent Americans and Canadians is being criticized for running rough shod over the rights of local residents.
With boutique hotels, multiple residential areas, and the branch of Colorado State University, the project would triple the population, put untenable stress on natural resources, and forever change the local culture, according to stunned local residents.
Now the focus is on water and the issue of the fisherman’s beach at Punta Lobos. Water is a scarce commodity in Todos Santos yet the Tres Santos project is drawing water away from existing residents and leaving many sections of town with unreliable or zero potable water. Residents of some barrios that have been struggling to obtain municipal water for years, ask why the development is already pumping away town water.
The following is an informational release about the environmental and social impacts of the Tres Santos project, also known as Black Creek Mira and Tres Santos Hub.
Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico, a small town of 8,000, on the Pacific coast an hour north of Cabo, in the high arid desert of Baja, is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos. A small oasis, a traditional farming and fishing community, Todos Santos has, in the past two decades attracted artists, bohemians, surfers and the like from the world over, who appreciate its traditions and environment and low-key life style.
Todos Santos’ fragile aquifer is challenged already. Historically draught caused a flourishing sugar cane industry to dry up half a century ago.
Back Story between Tres Santos and Todos Santos
Water was a focal issue during a July, 2013, public hearing (required for an environmental impact statement). To assuage critics, the company stated that they would not use any of the municipality’s water supply. As of the spring of 2015, nonetheless, the company tapped the municipal water system for a branch of Colorado State University (CSU) while several sections of Todos Santos remain without regular water; Tres Santos has broken their promises and is tapping precious town water.
Since the public meeting in 2013 the company claimed it received concessions to use municipal water from OOMSAPA (Organismo Operador Municipal del Sistema de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado, or “Municipal Water and Sewage System Operating Organism”), to supply the construction sites (3), agriculture (CSU campus), and for use in the first 74 homes located in the town of Todos Santos.
Contrarily, recently OOMSAPA revealed that neither Tres Santos nor Colorado State University has paid for its water usage and the alleged contract is in doubt.
Documents recently obtained under the Colorado Freedom of Information Act (CORA) show that tapping into Todos Santos’ fragile municipal water supply was always the first intention.
The company has stated that they will be constructing a desalination plant in 2016 to aid in supplying water to the area. So far no approvals or plans have been revealed. Critics point out that this type of plant injects brine into wells in the ground. The impacts of this method include; increased need/excessive use of electricity, potential contamination of fresh ground water sources, excessive amounts of land to release concentrated brine into evaporation ponds, and has proven uneconomical to sustain in other locations.
Again critics fear for the aquifer.
MIRA’s CEO, Javier Barrios, recently downplayed local residents’ water issues:
“Regarding water use in Todos Santos, we are deeply aware of the effects of the drought and the basic water infrastructure problems that many Todos Santos residents deal with on a regular basis. Many residents do not have a way to store water, and the municipality regularly shuts off the water supply as it works to pave streets and replace old pipes.”
Mr. Barrios ignores the project’s current water usage, and the usage as the company to create a green (irrigated) area in the high desert for what they call “The Town Farm” at the CSU campus, as well as the beach front hotel complex, on the fishermen’s beach at Punta Lobos. Below is a photo of an email between Kim Kita and others in regard to the plan for water for the new development and CSU.
In recent days the truth of the water issue has come to light. Tres Santos has the permits only for water connection not for usage. There was discussion of a 6 million peso payment made to the previous administration that was in office. The director of OOMSAPA states that there are irregularities in the agreement and that Tres Santos has been using the municipality’s water without any regulation.
On November 17, 2015, in footage taken by a local news reporter of the Director of OOMSAPA, the director states that Tres Santos has the permits for the connector’s but not for the use of municipal water. That in fact the company has been pumping from the town’s water and it has been unmetered.
Punta Lobos and the Fishermen
At Punta Lobos, in their rush to seize the land, MIRA, with the approval of SEMARNAT (Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources), removed hectares of mangle mangroves (a protected species) and a wetland area, which had protected and provided stable ground for the constantly moving sand. The mangroves also protected the beach for the fishermen and were where they once tied their boats. After the mangroves were removed the company built a concrete seawall with large boulders as revetment. It is unclear if the seawall received necessary approvals.
As a result of the seawall construction, Punta Lobos has experienced wide spread erosion, the eco-system has been seriously impacted, and the beach, from which generations of fishermen have launched their boats, has been made unsafe for the fishermen to launch and return from sea. Now fishermen scramble to pull boats up the beach, away from danger, literally pulling their pangas into the weeds to keep them from washing away.
As seasonal high tides and waves crashed against the seawall, the rock revetment was destroyed; boulders were pulled into the sea. Now boulders lie just under the shore break where the fishermen launch and land their boats. As a result several pangas have suffered serious damage to propellers and transmissions. On November 4, 2015, two fishermen were stranded at sea as a result of damaged transmissions. The Navy from Los Cabos tried to rescue them but had to turn back due to lack of gas. Eventually, the two fishermen managed to drive in reverse, returning to shore near dawn.
A major question is how did the developers get away with building the poorly designed seawall where they did? Mexican Federal Law requires a freely-passable 20-meter area between the high tide mark and any construction. As the sea sends waves crashing to the seawall and erodes the beach, one wonders where the Federal Zone went.
As of November 18, 2015, this marks day 21 that the fishermen have kept the company from continuing their work at the location of The Bunkhouse Hotel. This blockade came about due to the loss of beach due to seawall, issues with concessions, and damage to boats that the Fishermen have had to deal with the last 6 months or so.
Local Businesses Silenced
It is wholly understandable why local business would want to remain silent in regard to this project. This area depends on tourism in order to keep the local economy moving.
Due to the sheer size of the organization, Tres Santos brings a lot of business to town, and it helps in an area where money doesn’t come easy.
However let’s look at the opposite side of that coin. To what degree is the profit worth the environmental and social impacts this project has already created? What about the impact as the cost of living increases due to the change in social structure?
This project is geared towards people who are looking for that second home or a place to retire. The pricing of their beach homes is in the ranges of; $455,000 – $1,545,000 USD.
The average rural Mexican makes about $100.00 pesos per day, so 7 days of work $700.00 pesos, the equivalent of $46.66 USD per week to live. So at what costs are we really paying in the long run for a rapid increase in business?
There may be an increase in the standard of living but the costs will also rise. What will be the social costs? Will there be more division socially and more negative impacts on people that already live in poverty here?
Real Sustainability vs Green Marketing
A truly sustainable development would involve working with local people, knowing the local culture, putting in lots of time, money, planning, and gradual development. It would embrace alternative energy, low impact structures, water conservation/preservation, retrofitting old buildings, conservation of indigenous areas of flora/fauna, and ways to lower CO2 emissions during construction.
The company has branded this development as “sustainable” and as “embracing mindful living.” In today’s world we want to feel like we are creating less of a carbon footprint. With that thought in mind the company states it will build a community that embraces farm, beach, and town lifestyles.
When reviewing the floor plans and options they are offering there is no real mention of any aspect of the homes being sustainable. Models show use of grid energy, no alternative energy options, despite the fact that Todos Santos experiences brown outs in the hot summer months. The models indicate high water consumption, lots of swimming pools in a dry/arid region with a history of water shortages.
CSU Endorsement by Tres Santos
Colorado State University (CSU) was gifted a 4.3 million dollar facility in Todos Santos by MIRA, to construct a satellite campus. The gift has myriad strings. The company can use CSU branding when marketing their Tres Santos project to potential buyers. CSU must allow Tres Santos to use CSU’s branding in their promotional materials.
Perhaps the most disturbing string is that CSU researchers/ scientists/ faculty and students are prohibited from saying or publishing anything critical of the Tres Santos project. If CSU fails to adhere to any of these strings, Tres Santos can revoke their right to be in Todos Santos.