Futaleufú residents raise concern over industrial installation

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 Photo: Cecilia Uribe/Futaleufu RiverkeeperPhoto: Cecilia Uribe/Futaleufu Riverkeeper

By Nancy Moore
Residents in the Chilean Patagonia town of Futaleufú on Saturday came together for a march to call on authorities to protect their valley’s rural, agricultural, and touristic values, and to denounce a recent industrial installation in the area. 
Around 90 people participated in the “Caminata en Cuidado y Defensa del Noroeste.” The citizen action was initiated by the Junta de Vecinos del Noroeste in response to the San Felipe construction company setting up headquarters near the popular tourist site “Piedra de Aguila.” The installation includes an industrial garage, a Copec gas tank, and two cabins that are being used as an office and a residence for San Felipe, which is charged with maintaining and improving public roads in the Palena province.
In particular, residents of Futaleufú, population 2,623, expressed concern about the dangers the industrial traffic poses for neighbors and tourists who travel by foot and horseback on the narrow gravel roads in the Noroeste Valley. Sebastían Espinoza, president of La Junta de Vecinos, explained on the radio that the area’s infrastructure is not designed to handle heavy traffic, citing that the Bellavista Bridge located between the town and the San Felipe headquarters has a maximum limit of 18 tons.
Photo: Cecilia Uribe/Futaleufu RiverkeeperPhoto: Cecilia Uribe/Futaleufu Riverkeeper
As part of the activity on Saturday, community members on horses, bicycles, and on foot presented a letter to a representative of San Felipe and the property owner asking the company to move its operations to a different location and to recognize and respect the cultural and natural context of the valley.
La Junta de Vecinos isn’t the only organization concerned about the installation. Futaleufú’s Organización Social de Turismo (OST), represented by its president, Ervin Redlich, also presented a letter sharing concerns about the installation’s impact on tourism. As well, two weeks ago, the Comité Ambiental Comunal (CAC) filed a complaint about the company’s irregular conduct with Vialidad, the Palena province road management agency which is contracting San Felipe.  Among other things, the CAC complaint cited the use of two electric pumps extracting water from an underground spring without corresponding permits from the regional water department.
The march culminated with the procession of concerned community members walking and riding to the Futaleufú town plaza where the local mayor, Fernando Grandón, addressed them, informing that the municipality was aware of the company’s improper installation and assured that measures were being taken to resolve the situation.
Photo: Cecilia Uribe/Futaleufu RiverkeeperPhoto: Cecilia Uribe/Futaleufu Riverkeeper
Elias Alarcon, owner of the property at the center of the dispute, has suggested creating a schedule for truck and machinery movement to mitigate risks, and has offered to cover the Copec gas tank so that it’s more visually appealing. Alarcon, who owns a construction company, also uses the property he’s renting to house his trucks and other materials.
With its fast flowing, turquoise blue Futaleufu River, the Futaleufú Valley has transformed into one of the world’s leading destinations for rafting and kayak. But Futaleufú does not yet have a zoning law, or “ordenamiento territorial,” that would designate specific areas for tourism, agriculture, and other economic uses.  As such, issues like this one are likely to only increase in the years ahead with increasing development pressures coupled with the lack of a planning tool to regulate that growth. 

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