A real estate project led by an Argentine businessman is generating controversy in the seaside resort of Punta Ballenas, located in the Uruguayan department of Maldonado. Different residents, environmental activists and academics spoke out against the initiative the negative impact that the mega residential complex would have on biodiversity.
The La Ballena mountain range, known for its beauty, is a geological fault about 530 million years old. The area was a forgotten place until the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró built the renowned Casapueblo, to which residences and tourist complexes would be added over time on both sides of the Ballena hill. Although the place preserved its virgin areas, Much of the land could be affected by the controversial construction.
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He “Punta Ballena Residential Complex“, which is located on the coast of the department, on the slope on both sides of the Sierra de la Ballena, is a project presented by a group of investors led by Argentine businessman Delfín Ezequiel Carballo, who until the beginning of the year presided over Banco Macro. The construction plan covers nine hectares of land and requires the construction of 29 buildings consisting of 320 apartments in total.
The project has strong political support as a result of a private negotiation with the governments of the Frente Amplio and the National Party in the department of Maldonado, a negotiation that was ratified by the municipal legislature. According to the investor group’s schedule, the building will be carried out in six stages over a period of approximately seven years.
The Minister of the Environment of Uruguay, Robert Bouvier, reported that The initiative is in the disclosure stage “for citizen consideration”, designed so that the population knows the details of the initiative. “We are talking about private land. A private initiative, a project that was presented to the Ministry and we are giving it the corresponding process,” the official said at a press conference.
Bouvier explained that when this stage ends there will be “a public hearing where whoever carries out the project will explain to the public what it will be like.” “They are private lands. We will see in the citizen consultation bodies the evaluation we have and the environmental impact evaluation that we will do,” he said.
According to the ministry’s website, this project was approved by the executive of the Municipality and the Departmental Board of Maldonado, and is part of a transactional agreement in which the parties made reciprocal concessions to “put an end to a situation that was definitively resolved by the Supreme Court of Justice and that seeks to contemplate public and private interests at stake.”
In that sense, the agreement has the specific objective of “putting an end to a long dispute over the Punta Ballena area, that Justice has recognized as private property, and is currently subject to the only condition of the approval of the project by the environmental authority.”
The protest of neighbors and environmental organizations
When the initiative transcended, Neighbors and environmental organizations held demonstrations against him. In this regard, last Sunday there was a rally that included recreational activities and music. Social media accounts were even created to share content against the project, warning about the alleged environmental risks.
According to the environmental report published on the website of the Ministry of the Environment of Uruguay, among the impacts that this proposal would have are the “loss of biodiversity” with a “high” importance. In addition to this, the study warns that the construction stage of this project alone will affect 34.6% of the natural vegetation area of Punta Ballena.
During the assembly, lawyer José Luis Sciandro, an expert in environmental legal issues, He recommended “not letting the days pass” and advised the population to enter the Change.org form and the pages of the Red Unión de la Costa to present their reasons against the residential complex, before the deadline expires, next November 18.
In this petition, the neighbors maintain that “Punta Ballena is more than a simple geographical point, it is a geological jewel with rocks more than 530 million years old composed of half a dozen small caves. It is also an area of great ecological relevance since it has 427 registered plant species, 14 of them are endemic to the country and two to the place, that is, they do not exist anywhere else in the world. “The conservation of these species is a priority.”
“As Uruguayans, we cannot allow this national heritage to be lost. due to real estate speculation, private interests and lack of political will. We urge the Uruguayan government to take immediate measures to guarantee the preservation of Punta Ballena as Cultural and Natural Heritage of Uruguay,” they added.
According to the local media Maldonado’s diarythe Broad Front councilor of the Municipality of Maldonado Irene Pepi Gonçalves also intervened in that meeting and He denounced that “there was a fraudulent process” by the consulting firm that prepared the project reports. In that sense, she assured that the investors hired the company to “generate a report that is false, that cannot be taken as valid.”
Neighbors also spoke during the protest. That was the case of Álvaro, a man who has been in the place for more than 50 years. “It’s not something that only affects those of us who live in the area. There are people from all over the department who come to see the sunsets, to fish, to drink mate, to walk the dog, or on their first date. People who have a piece of their history in this place, who enjoy it, and who must understand that everything is at risk“he said excitedly.
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For its part, the Red Unión de la Costa delivered last Thursday more than 3,000 signatures to the Ministry of Environment to request the extension of the presentation stage of the real estate project. Likewise, they urged citizens to “continue making comments on this statement until the time it is open has run out.”
In addition, the Uruguayan Society of Geology expressed its concern about the possibility of the construction taking place. Through a statement, the specialists warned that the initiative “will modify the integrity of one of the most important geological sites in the country“.
They also highlighted that the Summary Environmental Report (IAR) of the undertaking “negative environmental impacts arise, in the ecosystem in general and in the physical environment in particular”. Along these lines, they expressed that “rock excavation (which includes blasting) is a high risk of degradation of the integrity of Punta Ballena as a site of geological interest, being susceptible to its loss as a site that is part of the National Inventory of Geological Heritage of Uruguay”.
On the other hand, they highlighted that Punta Ballena has “high scientific value”at the same time that it is a place with “recreational/tourist and didactic/educational uses, being a site visited for its scenic and panoramic beauty both to the east and west.”
The judicial controversy over lands
The use of these lands was involved in a controversy that lasted many years. and that was resolved in Court, with an agreement between the litigating parties (private and the State). In the 1970s, during the military dictatorship in Uruguay, the authorities used land from Punta Ballena for the construction of a panoramic route and a tourist route. This measure led the heirs of Antonio Lussich, former owners of the land, to file a lawsuit that culminated in the return of eleven hectares.
After the trial, in 2012, the owners of the land and the departmental authorities negotiated an agreement establishing that certain areas would remain public places. Later, Lussich’s heirs agreed with investors to build a huge residential complex.
René del Castillo, great-granddaughter of the pioneer Antonio Lussich, asked to speak during the assembly of activists last Sunday, where she acknowledged that she “is part of the problem” because the State expropriated her family’s lands and then privatized them, which, in his opinion, “it should not have been done.” However, she maintained that now “it is part of the solution” because it will work together with organized civil society to protect them. “Punta Ballena is an international emblem and has to be expropriated again,” she said, according to what she said. Maldonado’s diary.