Beach Contamination Seeps To Surface

It probably comes from long ago spill but current developer gets stuck fixing it, which they do
BY: BRIDGET BURKE

Chileno Beach on the Cabo tourist corridor is nestled in one of the only natural bays in Cabo. It is one of our three nice swimmable beaches and it is now under the siege of a diesel spill.  This beach has been designated a blue beach by the feds, which is a near and dear subject to the mayor’s heart, who has coveted the political designation of a clean beach. He finally got that designation after lots of work, and now it has been yanked away by a diesel spill.

Some guy posted a facebook picture of an oil spill on the beach and that started a frenzy of opinions on the cleanliness of the beach. Federal officials soon descended on the beach to investigate this spill. And along with them came the fire department, the Navy, the Army, SEMARNAT (environmental protection agency), and ZOFEMAT (federal zone agency). The authorities took environmental samples, photos, videos and witness testimony for study. The evidence they gathered did indeed confirm that Chileno Beach was contaminated. Amazingly, a facebook posting was right. Worse, the people on the beach claimed they reported it to those same agencies several months earlier and the most that happened then was there was an effort to partition off the area to stop the swimmers from plunging into the contaminated area. But people broke the barriers down and ignored the health warnings. Hence, in spite of the stinky diesel smell people continued to swim, snorkel and use the beach like nothing was wrong.

By the tine the government boys came around to check it out, everyone could smell the diesel. Facebook postings stayed on it, and the government agencies were pressed to take action. Chileno Beach was finally closed and this raised alarm bells everywhere that there was a very big problem.

Of course there has been much speculation about who screwed up and who is going to take responsibility. Accusations flew to and fro, and most were in the direction of the developer who is currently building a new luxury hotel and residences on the polluted area of Chileno Beach.

The municipal and federal authorities announced that regardless of who was at fault, there were very specific precautions and conditions for construction near beaches and of course there is a law against dumping stinky stuff into the sea. The authorities then said they would speak with the developer and monitor the site. They stated that no matter how it happened, the perpetrators would be held accountable for the environmental damage to the reef and land.

The potential environmental impact of hydrocarbon fuel on Chileno Bay marine and land species alarmed the community. It was reported that Benito Bermudez, Director of CONANP in Baja Sur California, advised that based on the test samples his agency saw, the impact was more severe on the beach than in the water. The penetration of the diesel into the rock crevices and loose sand directly affected the microscopic and medium sized fauna living on the ground, he said.

PROFEPA officials stated that site testing confirmed the soil was contaminated but that the damage may have been done long ago. Their experts said it is very possible that the current development project at the site may not have caused the soil damage at all.

The development under construction at the contamination site is the VieVage Los Cabos. It is a new beachfront hotel and residential condo resort being built by the Red Group in the 1,200 acre Chileno Bay master development. The Red Group is a Cabo-based construction and development firm led by Edward Hooton, whose projects include the Cabo Azul Resort. The Red Group along with SV Capital Partners (SVCP) and the Auberge Resorts Collection is responsible for VieVage. SV Capital Partners is a real estate investment and development firm whose portfolio includes Esperanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas, which is a property in the Auberge Resorts Collection. The Auberge Resorts Collection owns and operates a portfolio of hotels, resorts, residences and private clubs.

According to the VieVage team, the contamination happened 30 to 40 years ago, long before SVCP purchased the land in June 2013. SVCP purchased a 22 acre real estate parcel from the owners of the Chileno Bay partners master development. SVCP officials say they were not aware of the contamination at the time of purchase but during the course of pre-construction excavation, they discovered underground petrochemical residue.

SVCP stopped excavation immediately and hired experts in the field of environmental mediation and clean-up to make a full review and analysis of the property. They determined that the contamination affected about 1% of the property and was likely diesel fuel from fishing boats stored on the property 30 to 40 years ago when the site was a junk yard for ships..

Interestingly, SVCP states that all of the authorities were already aware of the contamination and were working with SVCP on it prior to the Facebook post. Many months ago, SVCP officials say, their expert consultants proposed a containment, removal and remediation plan, which was approved by SEMARNAT. Furthermore, PROFEPA, CANAGUA and SEMARNAT, purportedly were all heavily involved from day one, analyzing both the remediation plan as well as the actual results of remediation.

SVCP followed the official remediation process, the affected soil was moved and stockpiled on a non-permeable membrane, after which the soil was then cleaned, (injected with enzymes to break down the contaminant). To date, 1,500 cubic meters of soil have been removed. SVCP has adhered strictly to the remediation plan required by Mexican law, their officials say. Currently, they are waiting on the final green light from the Mexican authorities in order to perform the mitigation process on the soil. This is expected to happen in the next week.

Additionally, there is an area outside of the SVCP property that also has been affected. This area is called the Concession Area. SVCP suggests that this might be the area that people saw and reported in the Facebook post. In this area, white PVC pipes were pounded into the ground to take ground samples. The Concession Area property is not owned by SVCP, it is owned by the Chileno Bay development partners company. However, SVCP has been working with the authorities to clean that up as well. The soil there is expected to go through the same mitigation process described above, as soon as they receive the green light from SEMARANT.

Thus far, SVCP officials say they have invested more than $800,000 USD to formulate, implement and finalize remediation for the contaminants and state that they remain committed to maintaining and implementing policies that will hold Chileno Bay and the new VieVage resort to the highest standards of green living and environmental stewardship. PROFEPA issued a bulletin two weeks ago saying SVCP is in full compliance regarding the contaminate remediation.

While SVCP took on the responsibility for remediation of the diesel contamination found after they purchased the property as required by Mexican law, they are saying the spill is not their fault. They are conducting an investigation to identify the company(s) that may have originally caused the spill, be it the boat junk yard, possibly the road builders, or some yet unidentified culprit.

SEMARANT issued a report last week confirming that there is now no contaminant in the ocean water and Chileno Beach has been reopened. So for SVCP the battle continues while for Chileno Beach visitors it is time to grab your swimsuit, head to the beach, and hopefully soon see the treasured blue flag once again waving proudly above Chileno Beach’s turquoise waters.