MEXICO CITY (AP) — Building a $9.2 billion airport in the capital will help rehabilitate the surrounding area and it will not negatively impact the environment, as critics are charging, a top Mexican official said Friday.
Environment Secretary Juan Guerra said the airport will meet the highest sustainability standards, including using natural lighting and ventilation, as well as electricity produced from biogas and having its own waste water treatment plant.
"The airport will contribute to an improved environment and quality of life in the valley of Mexico," Guerra said. "It won't only be a sustainable airport ... (it) will also contribute to the restoration of the surrounding area."
He said the construction plan also includes rehabilitating thousands of acres of land around the new airport with green areas and building lagoons that will be used to harvest rain water to avoid floods.
National Water Commissioner David Korenfel said six additional man-made lakes will be built in the area, which currently has three, as part of a flood-prevention plan.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto last week announced plans for a new Mexico City airport, which will cover nearly 11,400 acres (4,600 hectares) of former lakebed and will be located about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the present, over-crowded facility. It will have six runways and it's expected to be completed in 50 years. The old airport can handle only 32 million passengers per year and it will eventually be turned over to the city for recreational and educational use.
Experts have begun to voice their concerns on possible environmental damage and have called on authorities to thoroughly analyze an environmental impact study before construction of the new airport begins next year.
"All projects, especially those of this nature will have an impact (on the environment) and they carry risks and we shouldn't minimize that or put it aside," said Gustavo Alanis, director of the Mexican Center for Environmental Rights.
Alanis said that his main concerns include not protecting the habitat of several bird species, including herons and ducks, which live in or come to the capital's western area, as well as the potential for flooding and the engineering challenges of trying to build in a major seismic zone.
The center and other non-governmental organizations have called on authorities to hold a public dialogue to assess the project's environmental impact, Alanis added.
Manuel Angel Nunez, coordinator of the new airport plan, said the environmental impact study is ready for review and will be delivered to the Environment Department next week. He said it will be up to federal environmental authorities to make the report public.