Mexico, U.S. water cleanup deal could tank

first_imgEnter Bajagua. Instead of giving the IBWC more taxpayer money to solve a problem it didn’t fix the first time, the company argued, the U.S. government would pay Bajagua over 20 years to build and operate a plant in Tijuana, a sprawling industrial city of 1.3 million. For Bajagua, the real prize would be a steady supply of water pumped south from the existing U.S. plant that, once clean, could be sold back to Mexican factories. “We were never going to make a lot of money treating sewage,” said Simmons. “Where we make money is in producing a product, and that product is water.” In 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the project was “infeasible” and endorsed a plan to build aeration ponds on the U.S. side of the border. With no guarantee of government funding, time is running short for Bajagua. A federal judge has ordered that the treated sewage meet federal standards by September 2008. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! IMPERIAL BEACH – When it rains in this border town, toxic goo from Mexican slums and factories flows down the Tijuana River onto U.S. soil. It winds through tidal marshes and ends up in the Pacific Ocean, closing the beach to swimmers and diehard surfers 198 days last year. The U.S. government found a novel fix: pay a private developer an estimated $700 million to build and manage a treatment plant in Tijuana, Mexico. If the plant sells recycled water to thirsty Mexican factories, U.S. taxpayers will get some of their money back. Ground has not yet broken and the 7-year-old agreement between the U.S. and Bajagua LLC is looking more fragile than ever amid growing criticism that the no-bid contract would fatten the developer’s pockets and fail to contain the sewage. This month, the Bush administration proposed funding a treatment plant on U.S. soil – which would effectively kill the Mexico venture. Bajagua still counts on strong bipartisan support in the San Diego-area congressional delegation, including Democrat Bob Filner, whose district includes Imperial Beach, a town of 28,000 people. Filner, one of the project’s biggest champions in Washington, has received more than $60,000 in campaign donations from the company and its associates since 1996. In all, Bajagua investors have donated more than $100,000 to political campaigns. Filner defends the Mexican plant as a good public-private partnership and said he was surprised by the Bush administration’s move to scuttle it. He predicted Congress would rebuff the White House. “We’ve already spent 10 years working on this, and it’s the first real chance to clean up a problem that’s plagued us for decades,” Filner said. Bajagua was founded in the late 1990s by San Diego land-use consultant Jim Simmons and Mexican real-estate developer Enrique Landa after the U.S. government stumbled in its efforts to treat Tijuana’s runaway sewage. The International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational agency, had just built a U.S.-financed, $240 million plant in San Diego that failed to meet federal clean-water standards. last_img

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