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Sewage row envelops Pan Am Village

November 11, 2011

The cause of bad odors detected by some athletes staying at the Pan American Games Village has come to light. Faulty treatment plants meant that sewage was being pumped out of the village on to land beside the complex and even into the nearby Bosque Primavera nature reserve, it has emerged.

The discharges were detected at two points beside the buildings where the Cuban and Brazilian delegations were staying, after administrators had dug seven ponds to “store” the wastewater when two of the village’s treatment plants collapsed.

Patricia Godinez Luna, director of Zapopan’s Regulations and Inspections Department, reported that the irregularity was detected on the night of October 23 and confirmed during a tour the following day.

Games officials admitted that sewage had been discharged into the open air but said it was not raw and that the situation had been controlled within two days.

State Water Commission workers began to remove the residual wastewater using vactor trucks on the evening of October 24.  The second malfunctioning plant was shut down on October 27.

But the “environmental damage had already been done and is considered serious,” said Godinez.

The sewage remained in the pits for several days and may have contaminated the subsoil and local streams, which lead into the Rio Caliente.

According to Zapopan Ecology Director Miguel Prado Aguilar, the area was “saturated with sewage” and penetrated 20 meters inside the Primavera Forest.

Zapopan officials have sealed the treatment plants until further notice, slapped a fine on the village (580,000 pesos) and will make daily inspections at the village during the duration of the Parapan American Games from November 12 to 20.

Zapopan has also filed a criminal complaint with the State Attorney General’s Office regarding the contamination.

Pan Am Games and senior state officials played down the severity of the pollution.  “The situation is controlled and the Parapan Games will go ahead on schedule,” said Government Secretary Fernando Guzman.

“There was a problem in some of the tanks during the rainy season,” admitted Hugo Rodriguez, director of sporting infrastructure of the Pan American Games Organizing Committee (Copag), at a press conference last week.

Rodriguez said the problem only occurred during the first few days of the games and that the water being leaked was filtered, not raw sewage. This was acknowledged and “resolved immediately and now the (malfunctioning) plant will function without problem.”

The Mexican Construction Industry Chamber (CMIC) defended the constructors of the village’s water treatment plants this week and laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the village administrators.

CMIC President Miguel Zarate said the plant was designed in accordance with the number of people they had been told would be living there in the future: “We are talking a maximum of 2,500 to 3,000 people.”

Yet during the games the village was home to around twice that number of people, a figure that would have been known and should have been planned for years before the event.

The village looks set for further controversy and a drawn-out legal battle looms over its future.

The original plan was to sell the apartments for between 1.2 million and 3.4 million pesos. However, the State Administration Tribunal (TAE) froze pre-sales several months ago after residents of the nearby Rancho Contento subdivision filed a lawsuit calling for the demolition of the village because of the damage it has caused to the local ecosystem and the incomplete development plans. The recent sewage leaks may serve to vindicate the local community’s environmental concerns but the demolition of the village would represent an enormous and embarrassing waste of money.

A final verdict could be months away, but the TAE is expected to give a preliminary judgement between November 13 and 25.

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