Marina del Rey de Baja?

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Plans by Mexico's tourism agency to develop a string of marinas along both coasts of the wild Baja Peninsula and the mainland opposite have apparently been scaled back in response to protests from environmentalists on both sides of the border. Actual plans are a moving target, but the starting point was an ambitious "nautical ladder," the Excalera Nautica, of 12 upgraded and 10 large new ports to be built on the expectation of a coming boom in the cruising population.

As originally announced, the Escalera Nautica would provide a marina, services, and amenities every 120 miles. That sounds good, but many Baja cruising veterans joined the opposition. They were appalled that now-pristine spots would be altered forever by the $221 million public-private project, and most questioned the Mexican government's projection of 76,000 nautical tourists per year by 2010.

The tourism secretary of Baja California Norte, Alejandro Moreno, said the marinas would create, "enormous amounts of development and lots of jobs." Opponents said that the government could do more to promote cruising by streamlining the present port-by-port entry/clearance processes that eat up time and enthusiasm, and by learning to think in terms of eco-tourism.

Considering the tourism bureau's failed projects of the past that include abandoned R.V. parks on Baja's main highway and gas stations closed for lack of traffic, could they pull this off? And would the Baja wilderness be bettered or ruined should they succeed and replicate their biggest success, Cancun, 22 times over? American Mark Spalding, a board member of Surfrider Foundation, said, "Under pressure, the planners are at least giving lip service to scaling back. They point out that development is inevitable, and this at least is controlled development, so we want to work with them. But we also see them giving new names to old places, so they won't be accused of targeting nature preserves, even though they are."

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