Plan to move Merida airport took most by surprise

Lawmakers raise concerns over land speculators, water supply

The Merida International Airport may be moved to the south under a new federal proposal. Photo: Facebook
The Merida International Airport may be moved to the south under a new federal proposal. Photo: Facebook

Mexico’s plans for a new Merida airport, unknown to the public until Tuesday, surprised local business leaders who days before were also taken off guard by sudden promises to fix Yucatan’s failing power grid.

Yucatan was already grappling with the complexities of integrating a peninsula-wide Mayan Train system.

The Chamber of Commerce and the airport’s management group apparently had no advance warning of Tuesday’s announcement in Cancun.

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One state-level politician warned that announcing such a project, not yet greenlit by the governor, could prompt a land grab by speculators in the south.

Another lawmaker, state congressional chairman Felipe Cervera, worried that the project could cause water shortages in Merida given that the groundwater reserves that provide over 50 percent of local supply are in the city’s south.

Yucatan Gov. Mauricio Vila Dosal stressed that for now, nothing is set in stone.

“At present there are only proposals in conceptual phases; we are in talks, looking for alternatives and valuing all the options,” he said, adding that the new airport would not be paid for by taxpayers.

“From the first time I sat down with President Lopez Obrador, we talked about the possibility of relocating the Merida airport to give more feasibility to the Mayan Train project,” the governor said, “but also, to be able to move the fence built by the airport for several decades, which has generated so much inequality between the north and south of Merida.” 

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When Vila Dosal was mayor, he advocated for overcoming the north-south barrier that the airport’s location creates.

If the relocation of the air terminal takes place, it will not cost the government of Yucatán, the head of the state executive stressed.

‘Why would it have to be relocated?’

While ASUR, the airport management group, voiced support for the project, the local Chamber took on a more skeptical tone.

Canaco President Michel Salum Francis, wondered, in light of the Peninsula’s chronic blackouts and natural-gas shortage and struggle to find resources for the already scaled-down Mayan Train, “where are you going to get money for a new airport?”

Salum Francis said there is plenty of life left in the original airport, which was established in the 1920s, completely rebuilt in the late 1960s and expanded in 2016.

“The Merida airport is underutilized,” he said. “Why would it have to be relocated?”

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Transportation services could be arranged between the current airport and the eventual Mayan Train station without building an entirely new airport, he said.

But head of ASUR, the airport management group hired by the government, appeared neutral on the idea.

“We will support any decision made by the federal government regarding the movement of the airport,” said Hector Navarrete Munoz. “At the moment we do not know the location of the project, but as soon as we know it we will study it and surely we will let them know.”

Announcing the project at a Cancun conference on Tuesday, Fonatur chief Rogelio Jimenez Pons said the project so far is in the conceptual phase and not a done deal. It would be backed completely by private investment, not adding to the Mayan Train budget.

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An urban “Central Park-style” green space would replace the current airport.

The architect

Details on the project are scarce, but one decision was shared on Tuesday: Enrique Norten is its architect.

A quick scan of Norten’s portfolio suggests a prestigious career designing impressive institutional buildings, but his portfolio shows no airports.

Mexico City-born Norten, 65, is the founder of TEN Arquitectos in Mexico City, with an office in New York City. The firm has big-name clients such as the New York Public Library, Rutgers Business School in New Jersey and the Guggenheim Museum in Guadalajara.

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But if the new Merida’s air terminal is completed, it will be Norten’s first.

Sources: Diario de Yucatan, Punto Medio, La Jornada Maya

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