Last Thursday evening the Bajagua family — Jim Simmons, Gary Sirota, Marco Gonzalez and various hangers-on — showed up in full force to the International Boundary and Water Commissions (IBWC) Citizen’s Forum at the beachside city of Imperial Beach Dempsey Holder Safety Center. There they enjoyed an evening of tense exchanges in broken Spanish with hapless bureaucrats responsible for improving Tijuana’s aging sewage infrastructure system.

The colorful Bajaguas of Rancho Santa Fe were more than likely a little disappointed that during the presentation by Toribio Cueva (Assistant Director of the Sanitation Department, State Public Services Commission of Tijuana (CESPT)) about improvements being made in TJ to the city’s sewage infrastructure, he did not once mention the Bajagua project.

The bizarre notion that Bajagua occupies a major space in the Mexican bureaucracy for future planning of sewage treatment plants, is a fantasy spun by the company’s PR rep, Craig Benedetto and bought hook line and sinker by the gullible San Diego media.

Luckily Scott Lewis of the Voice exposed the first Bajagua media hoaxthat their project was a “comprehensive solution” to the border sewage crisis that had been common currency for years among many reporters covering the company.

But some people never learn. On Aug. 9 Benedetto issued the following press release:

Bajagua Announces Issuance of Concession to Use Federal Property by Government of Mexico

Bajagua, LLC announced Wednesday that it has received a critical concession from the Government of Mexico to use federal land in the construction of the Bajagua sewage treatment facility.. “This is a major step forward for Bajagua and for clean water,” said Jim Simmons, Managing Partner of Bajagua, LLC. “There were those who have doubted Mexico’s support for Bajagua and our ability to get permission to use federal land for this important bi-national purpose. Those doubts should now be put to rest,” he added. “This important milestone brings all of the environmental and economic development benefits of Bajagua much closer to reality,” said Simmons.

According to an Aug. 31 review of the original Spanish language “concession” conducted by Fernando Ochoa of the Northwest Center of Environmental Law (and one of Mexico top environmental attorneys) that Bajagua claims is a “critical” is the conclusion that,

This concession is not valid or in effect UNTIL Bajagua complies with the following (see pages 4 and 5 of the Resolution):

  • Submit to CAN {National Water Commission) the construction plans of the project for review and approval.
  • Obtain environmental impact assessment authorization from DGIRA-SEMARNAT
  • Pay all costs required
  • Once Bajagua complies with the requirements stated in the resolution and submits the series of documents CNA has required, Bajagua should get the TITLE OF CONCESSION issued by CNA.

The afore mentioned resolution does not represent the Mexican Federal Government’s support for Bajagua LLC’s wastewater project. The project is still pending authorizations from other Federal Agencies such as Direccion General de Riesgo e Impacto Ambiental (DGIRA).

What Benedetto informed the media as a critical concession is really nothing than an application review letter that means very little at all in Mexico. What counts is a “title of concession.”

If the San Diego media would have bothered to contact someone with some knowledge about Mexico’s legal system, they would have learned this. But Bajagua is desperate to get a favorable ruling on Sept. 14, in a state lawsuit against the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, an arm of the State Department. and will do anythingg to win a federal contract that will earn the millions.

So not surprisingly, San Diego reporters lapped up Benedetto’s press release. With the UT’s Mike Lee printing parts of the release verbatim without corroborating the “truthiness” of Benedetto’s release:

Sally Spener, a spokeswoman for the boundary commission, said yesterday that her agency is evaluating Mexico’s land concession documents and would not comment on them.

Hint to the U-T: get reporters who speak Spanish and know Mexico well to cover issues that take place in Mexico. Otherwise your reporters will have to rely on overworked American bureaucrats like Spener to verify Mexican legal information for you instead of taking advantage of an entire country filled with Spanish-speaking sources.

KPBS’s Ed Joyce just quoted Benedetto’s incoherent interpretation of his own release:

Craig Benedetto … says getting land from the Mexican government is key to moving the project forward. Benedetto: The land itself is federally owned land and it was important because it shows one, Mexico’s commitment in putting some skin into the game by contributing that land. As well as showing their formal support contractually by issuing a concession to the company.

Ironically, since the company has no title of concession Craig admitted that the company actually doesn’t have any support, land or any “skin.”

Here’s a free hint for San Diego reporters covering issues in Mexico — never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever trust the word of a public relations consultant and developer spinmeister when he compares his “critical” letter from the Mexican government to a piece of skin.

— SERGE DEDINA

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