Opposing Mexico City’s new airport may ruffle some feathers, but it will save thousands of migratory birds.
Mexico City’s proposed new airport would destroy Lake Texcoco, one of North America’s major migratory bird sanctuaries. Each year, many thousands of migratory birds from all over North America fly to Lake Texcoco. Everywhere migratory birds are disappearing, victims of urbanization and industrial development. This airport can go elsewhere, the birds cannot.
Mexican President Vicente Fox ran on a platform committed to an open, democratic process and environmental protection. Yet decisions about the airport are being made behind closed doors. Is President Fox just another politician after all, catering to the rich and powerful? Or was his election a genuine moment for reform and progress? The answer will be clear from the decisions he makes about Lake Texcoco.
In Aztec times, Mexico City was an island in the midst of lakes teeming with birds and fish. The Spaniards drained the water and the wildlife disappeared. Over the last 30 years, a major restoration program changed all that. Thirty million trees were planted, five lakes re-created and water-treatment plants built.
Mexico’s National Biodiversity Commission has designated the restored Lake Texcoco a “critical bird conservation area.” Migratory birds from all over North America flock to Lake Texcoco where they winter, nest or stop over during their annual journeys. Every year, 100,000-300,000 birds, representing at least 156 species, fly from points all over North America to find a safe harbor at Lake Texcoco.
Scientists consider many species among these to be threatened or in need of special protection, including: Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Northern Pintail, Blue-Winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, American Widgeon, Northern Harrier, Harris’ Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Cinnamon Teal, Redhead Duck, Least Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpipe and Wilson’s Phalarope.
Constructing an airstrip on Lake Texcoco’s muddy, salty and compressible soil would be like building on jello. Some parts of the area sink as much as 12 inches annually. The buildings would be unstable and the salt would eat away at the foundations. To make a bad situation worse, earthquakes can be magnified in muddy soils of this type, a major problem in the seismically active region of Mexico.
President Vicente Fox ran on a platform of openness and accountability. He promised to end backroom deals involving a few powerful politicians and business people in Mexico.
He also expressed his commitment to the environment. Yet, there has been no opportunity for public discussion of the proposed airport and no independent environmental analysis. Any development of an environmentally sensitive area such as Lake Texcoco demands a full and open environmental impact analysis, including the opportunity for public comment or discussion.
Each year, thousands of birds are struck by planes. A few birds sucked into a turbine can cause engine failure and a deadly crash.
Since airplanes are at their most vulnerable during takeoff and landing, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) specifies that airports be located at least five miles away from wildlife habitat. Approach and departure paths at the proposed Lake Texcoco airport would go through the middle of the Lake Texcoco bird sanctuary.
If Mexico builds a giant airport at Lake Texcoco, birds will be eradicated and their habitat destroyed to protect air travelers. The restoration efforts will be quickly lost as trees are cut and ponds drained.
US airlines that fly into Mexico City have a responsibility to oppose a planned airport that would destroy a rare bird refuge. Tell Delta [http://www.delta.com], American [http://www.aa.com], Continental [http://www.continental.com], Northwest [http://www.nwa.com] and United [http://www.united.com] what you think.
The proposed Mexico City airport is the first test of President Fox’s genuine commitment to open government and environmental protection. Siting the airport at Lake Texcoco would send the wrong message.
What You Can Do: Write President Vicente Fox [c/o Embassy of Mexico, 1911 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006] to request a thorough environmental impact analysis. For more information: Group of 100 [c/o 466 Green St., San Francisco, CA 94133] and Grupo de los Cien Internacional [Apartado Postal 41-523 Col. Virreyes Mexico D.F. 11001, Mexico, Fax (525) 520-3577].
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