Monday, July 11, 2011

Rio Amarillo Airport Redux

La Prensa reported today that the Lobo Sosa administration is lobbying UNESCO to approve building an airport in the Rio Amarillo valley.

The article primarily reports statements by several Santa Rosa de Copan residents on why nothing is happening on either the construction of an airport or the construction of the road from Santa Rosa, through Concepción, to near Copan, long a priority of the businessmen of the region.

Here's what UNESCO had to say about the idea of constructing an airport at Rio Amarillo, and its possible impact on Copan, in their draft agenda for the recently concluded (June 19-29) 35th annual meeting in Paris (from pages 256-257 of the PDF).
The 2003 and 2005 joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring missions to the property made several objections to the construction of the airport at the Rio Amarillo site, and identified alternative locations. In 2006 the World Heritage Centre congratulated the State Party for the decision to halt the construction of the airport at the Rio Amarillo area....

However in 2007, the State Party informed the Committee of plans to construct an alternate airport at the old air strip in the village of Concepción. The 2009 state of conservation report indicated that a final decision on the construction of an airport in La Concepción was still pending and that IHAH was reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment to make an official statement. No further information was received on its decision. On 30 September 2010, the World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the Honduran Delegation indicating its concerns regarding the reconsideration of the construction of the airport at the Rio Amarillo site after reviewing information from the published press. The 2011 state of conservation report submitted by the State Party indicates that the Ministry of Tourism had cancelled the option of La Concepcion for financial reasons and that it is once again evaluating the Rio Amarillo option. It also reported that prior to making further decisions the IHAH will analyze by October 2011, an updated assessment of impact on cultural heritage and the Public Use Plan, which will include the potential impact of the airport, particularly as it relates to the visitor management programme.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that sufficient information has been provided to the World Heritage Committee over the past 5 years, and Decisions of the World Heritage Committee have indicated clearly that the construction of an airport at Rio Amarillo, could have an adverse impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.

In other words, nothing has changed; it's still a lousy idea that endangers the World Heritage Site of Copan.

In 2003 UNESCO said:
ICOMOS adds to this that the properties of Piedras Negras, Rio Blanco and Rio Amarillo must be protected due to their important scientific value for the overall understanding of the cultural system of Copan and its potential role as a state.

The information provided by the Lobo Sosa administration to UNESCO indicates that it is the prerogative of the Tourism Minister, Nelly Jerez, to choose the site for the airport. Despite claims to the contrary, this airport is primarily seen as something to drive tourism, not something vital to the overall economy of the region.

The report by the Lobo Sosa administration to UNESCO indicates that the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History is carrying out yet another analysis of the environmental and archaeological impact of a Rio Amarillo airport, this one due in October 2011.

That's what you do when you don't have the answer that you want: you commission a new study.

Not that there is any mystery about what the report due this coming fall is likely to say: in January this year Jerez stated the airport would be at Rio Amarillo, and that IHAH had already approved the site:
"We've already made the decision, we have already done the studies; we have already done the investigations; we have it all put together in the Institute of Anthropology."

UNESCO notes that a 2004 study by IHAH concluded that an airport at Rio Amarillo would endanger both Copan and the Rio Amarillo archaeological sites. Press reports of the time indicated that that conclusion cost archaeologist Carmen Julia Fajardo her job as head of investigations for IHAH. A second study carried out six months later by IHAH reversed the first, claiming that an airport at Rio Amarillo would be acceptable.

In June, the latest UNESCO report concluded:
5. Reiterates its concern that the site of Rio Amarillo is being considered for the construction of the airfield, in spite of previous World Heritage Committee decisions, yet acknowledges that additional information has been gathered and new studies have been produced after the 2005 reactive monitoring mission conducted by ICOMOS, which requires further analysis;

6. Accepts the State Party’s invitation for a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission in 2011 to assess the state of conservation of the property and particularly review all the information produced up to this date regarding the project of building an airfield in the site of Rio Amarillo, including environmental impact assessments, and a heritage impact assessment, in order to update the analysis for consideration and review by the World Heritage Committee;

So Jerez is waiting for a UNESCO visit and the new IHAH report.

If she really is waiting until October or later, the airport will not be built by the deadline of December, 2012, that she set for it to open.

As we've pointed out many times (here, here, and here) the La Concepción site would serve a larger population without the projected damage to historic sites.

If Jerez wants an airport built by December, 2012, it needs to start construction today, and be built at La Concepción.

1 comment:

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

At the end of June an article appeared in La Prensa
that there would be five new airports, including Rio Amarilla. It also noted that Gracias would also be one site; of course, Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Congress, is from Gracias and there are reports that the land for the airport is his.