Thursday, June 5, 2014. PATRICK E. JONES Reporting: The proposed Puerto Azul development project within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll has raised “substantial alarm” within Belize’s conservation community.
An alliance of conservation groups including Oceana-Belize, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People and the Belize Audubon Society today issued a statement calling on government to make an official statement on the exact status of the proposed resort development project.
The conservation community statement also lists 7 of what it says is a long list of questions that needs answers, including whether or not the terms of reference for the project or the EIA has been finalized, whether the presence of Ministers Heredia and Contreras at the project’s unveiling in Cannes, France indicates an official endorsement of the project by government and whether the large amount of money being spent to promote Puerto Azul is not just an attempt to legitimize a “highly speculative venture.”
The Belize environmental community also notes that its concerns are based on the proposed location of the Puerto Azul development project on Northern Two Caye and Sandbore Caye, which are within an environmentally sensitive area.
“Belize’s greatest asset is the pristine nature of its world class natural wonders. To place what can only be described as a theme park for billionaires in the middle of Lighthouse Reef, perhaps the nation’s most valuable natural asset is nothing less than a crime committed against our future generations,” says the statement from the Belize conservation community.
The list of questions put forward that the conservation community says Belizeans need answers to are:
1. The last official word on this project was in August 2013 to announce that a feasibility study was going to be conducted on Puerto Azul. What are the findings of that study? We hereby request that the study be made public.
2. Has a terms of reference for the project or the EIA been finalized?
3. The current plans for Puerto Azul include significant alternations to the natural state of the cayes. How does this plan reconcile with Belize’s tourism marketing strategy of “authenticity”?
4. Does the presence of the Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia and Minister of Trade, Investment Promotion, Private Sector Development and Consumer Protection Erwin Contreras at the project’s unveiling in Cannes, France indicate an official endorsement of the project by the Dean Barrow administration?
5. Who paid for Ministers Heredia, Contreras and their entourage to attend the European event? Were taxpayer dollars used or were the project’s developers able to purchase the perception of a Governmental green light by hosting the Belize delegation?
6. How can Belizeans be assured that the exorbitant money being spent on promoting this project is not an attempt to legitimize a highly speculative venture?
7. How will a project of this magnitude impact the local economy of fisher folk, tour guides and tour operators?
The conservation community statement ends by saying that “we welcome investment, and the benefits it brings, but there are many other places in Belize that are better suited to this type of investment that will bring greater benefits to our people with much less damage to our precious environment.”
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