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Report: No EIS for GMXT Nogales Bypass

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The governor of Mexico’s northern state of Sonora acknowledged Nov. 21 that a new rail bypass for Grupo Mexico-owned Ferromex (GMXT) around the border city of Nogales was a Mexican army undertaking that has not yet submitted an environmental impact statement, months after construction had already started, according to an Associated Press report by Daniel Shailer.

Existing GMXT line through Nogales. OpenRailwayMap.org

GMXT’s line between the port of Guaymas and Nogales with the new bypass to the east of Nogales “threatens to cut through and damage environmentally sensitive conservation lands,” Shailer wrote. “Sonora Gov. Alfonso Durazo justified the new rail line project saying it would solve the problem of a rail line that passed through the center of Nogales by diverting rail traffic outside the city. But while the state is partially financing the project, Durazo said it is ‘being carried out by the Defense department,’ adding that the state’s operational role is limited to helping the Army secure the rights-of-way.”

A “leaked” map of the proposed rail bypass in northern Sonora shows that it would displace dozens of families from their homes in Imuris, Sonora, and cut through a fragile conservation area on its way north, according to Wildlands Network. Map courtesy of Wildlands Network

Sonora’s government wants to convert Guaymas, on the Gulf of California, into a major container port (perhaps most likely to compete with CPKC’s Lazaro Cardenas port), but the current connection to Union Pacific (which has a 26% ownership stake in GMXT) at the U.S. border bisects Nogales. The new bypass “cuts a completely new path well south of Nogales that threatens to cut through the Aribabi ranch, a federally designated Natural Protected Area, and the town of Imuris, 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of the U.S.-Mexico border,” Shailer wrote. “The project illustrates the power that Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has given to the army, which has been allowed to sidestep normal permitting and environmental standards. This has been the case of the Maya Train tourist rail line on the Yucatan peninsula, which cut a swath through the jungle.”

GMXT Guaymas-Nogales line. OpenRailwayMap.org

“In the face of court challenges and criticism, López Obrador in 2021 passed a law stating the projects of importance to ‘national security’ would not have to submit impact statements until up to a year after they start construction,” Shailer noted. “Under Mexico’s environmental laws, sidestepping impact assessments ought to be ‘completely illegal,’ said said Alex Olivera, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. ‘But this is AMLO’s government, so probably they will say that it is strategic infrastructure’ like the Maya Train, and therefore exempt.”

Bypass opponents “have been unable to get even the most basic information on the train line, with no federal, local or state authority willing to take responsibility for the $350 million project,” Shailer wrote. “Even though parts are already under construction and government contractors have begun felling trees and bulldozing the path for the railroad toward the Aribabi ranch—home to a rare combination of black bears and jaguars—no environmental impact statement has ever been filed. ‘Because it is a strategic project, it is the responsibility of the Environment Department and we have a year to submit the environmental impact, and that is well under way,’ Durazo said. He stressed the line was part of an ‘integrated plan’ for transporting freight from Guaymas to the U.S., but that plan appears to have neglected existing train lines north of the border, where Union Pacific operates the line running into Nogales.”

Union Pacific told the Associated Press the railroad “has no plans for moving the track in Nogales.”

“Local residents also feel left out of Durazo’s plan, saying there has been no official communication or consultation,” AP’s Shailer noted. “The project is not mentioned on any state or federal government websites, or in Sonora state’s development plans. Omar del Valle Colosio, Sonora state’s chief development officer, said all rights-of-way were being negotiated with residents. ‘The project is only being done with the authorization of the public,’ Del Valle Colosio said. But local residents say the state’s infrastructure and urban development department has offered to buy portions of some properties for as little as 1.80 pesos (10 U.S. cents) per square meter.”

“According to a map leaked by a local official in the spring,” AP’s Shailer said, the bypass routing will follow Cocospera river south before cutting through the west perimeter of the Aribabi ranch and then shifting west, into Imuris. “Locals say the route rides roughshod over their farms’ irrigation canals and threatens the reservoir that provides water for the township’s 12,500 residents. In addition to disrupting wildlife that rely on the river, construction will also cut up an important migration corridor over the Azul and El Pinito mountains for ocelots, black bears and jaguars, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.”

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