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Turbulence in Alto Maipo ( - 24/05/2004 (Texto Original)

The COREMA approved the construction of an airport in Buin, but neighbors still haven’t started the battle.

Although this photo doesn’t correspond to Bui, it doesn’t reflect their feelings: No to the airport, yes to agriculture.

By Mariana Martínez

It’s true, though seems a mistake: the municipality of Buin was left hands-tied after the Regional Environmental Commission (COREMA) recently approved the construction of the San Gregorio airport, with a capacity of around 85,000 annual flights. Although the decision has been made, they can still do something and that is –according to Raúl Opazo, from the environmental development department- to back up all the legal actions their neighbors (farmers, schools, big and small wineries, and neighbors’ associations) will soon take.

Opazo explains that the opposition to the airport is not against modernity and the need to find a substitute for the Tobalaba and Cerrillos airports of Santiago. First, it’s against the fact this –private- proposal was the only one presented –it didn’t go to a public bid- and second, that the area chosen can only be used for farming.

The objections to the area chosen by the owner of the project, Max Marambio, are clear. Opazo explains that the landing strip would run between three mountain chains, two schools, hundreds of hectares of fine vines, and quite close to the most important energy plant for the capital region and its high tension towers. He points out that it wouldn’t bring economical benefits for the commune, rising from new commercial permits, since only the landing strip would be located in Buin. The building, restaurants and hangars (that do pay) would be located in Paine, which by the way is in favor of the project.

In the last stage, and to get favorable votes, it seems that Max Marambio promised to pay the costs of the environmental impact -said the municipal worker- even the double glasses of the schools ion both ends of the landing strip. But what he and the authorities who support the project don’t seem to know, is that more than the noise and the pollution such a heavy air traffic would cause to a farming location such as Buin, is that it would not only affect its people, but also the image of a privileged area for fine wines.

Those who have been investing in wines here for decades, such as professor Alejandro Hernández, winemaker of Portal del Alto, see it as a planned "terrorist act" that plays against the development of the people and the emerging wine tourism, benefited by the closeness of Santiago.

A view of Santa Rita’s vineyards, on the foothills of the Cordillera, in Buin.

If our Ministers of Agriculture and Education had the importance they have in Europe, says Hernández, and considering the opposition expressed to the project, this attack against the community had never gone this far. "If I’m tasting or talking and a plane flies by I lose a minute –adds Hernández- and if we’re going to have 360 planes per day, I’ll lose several hours per week and even several days in a month. If the airport is actually built –ends off visibly annoyed- I will have no other choice than leaving.”

Winemaker Alvaro Espinoza –with his boutique winery Antiyal- agrees with Portal del Alto, Huelkén, Pérez Cruz, Cousiño Macul, Santa Rita and Carmen, all wineries nestled in Alto Maipo. He and his wife, Marina Ashton, are equally upset about the situation. They have been lobbying with the specialized press from the day the learned about the project, last year. After the COREMA’s decision they have called on the government to be consistent. If President Lagos inaugurated the wine train in Colchagua just a few days ago, and expressed he was aware of the importance of generating added values in the wine world, then it’s not possible that our country still doesn’t have the legal tools to protect the terroirs that give birth to our greatest wines and which give us international prestige.

Marambio –argues Espinoza- defended his project saying that it is possible to have vineyards next to planes, just as there are vineyards growing in the surroundings of the International Pudahuel Airport, and in other prestigious wine regions, such as Napa or Bordeaux. But –says Espinoza- he doesn’t seem to know that in Pudahuel we have table grapes, a simple commodity, or product with no added value. On the other hand, he points out, in Napa the airfields near the wineries are for private use.

Aware of the consequences the airport will have for the image of Buin, the neighbors have taken the problem in their hands and are getting organized to attack different legal aspects. They even talk about creating a research committee to clarify if there were any pressures or contacts’ influences. Sergio España, leader of the group (>) doesn’t want to give out details about the legal claims they will soon present in order to avoid giving clues to the enemy. But he said that the big wineries and their law firms, as well as the small wineries are moving. By now, the neighbors can only make lots of noise in the streets. They intend to create awareness among the audience because –taking some distance- the solution demands a radical change in the way Chileans see wine and its role in the nation’s economy

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