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Environmentalists present united front in opposition to Port of Belize cruise project; consultation set for Wednesday

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Posted: Tuesday, July 21, 2020. 3:27 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Despite what appeared to be a ‘no’, or at least ‘not yet’ from Cabinet as expressed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow a few weeks ago, a public consultation on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Port of Belize expansion and accompanying cruise project sponsored by Waterloo Investment Holdings Limited proceeds tomorrow evening, Wednesday, in Belize City.

That US$ 200 million proposal is for a Port of Belize makeover, expanding bulk handling and building a cruise terminal with on shore berthing.

On June 26, two days after Cabinet met to consider the proposal formally, the Prime Minister curtly told reporters, “Government is not prepared to proceed with [the project] at this stage. I don’t want to get in the details of the deliberations in Cabinet and this not ought to be taken as saying anything more than at this juncture for all sorts of reasons. Cabinet did not feel that we ought to proceed. I really don’t want to take it beyond that.”

Nonetheless, the consultation continues – and the environmental community has been busy writing authorities in the last few days and weeks citing major issues with at least one of the proposals in question.

On Monday, we were provided a copy of what appears to be a memo or notes detailing environmental non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) various concerns about the project.

Vice President of Oceana Belize, Janelle Chanona, provided a copy of her correspondence with Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development Dr. Omar Figueroa in June concerning plans to dump “unprecedented quantities of dredged material in offshore locations.” Wind and water currents are such, she writes, that the material will inevitably have negative impacts on Belize’s marine environment. She asks that the developers find land-based alternatives based on testing the material.

According to a former senior advisor for international oil company BP Gordon Kirkwood, posting on social media, four sites for potential dumping – an area off St. George’s Caye; an area off Goff’s Caye; an area near Turneffe Atoll and an area located east-northeast of Dangriga Town – are all potentially hazardous to the Belize Barrier Reef and cayes, some less than others. A projected five million cubic metres of material is expected to be dumped.

The chairman of the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), Valdemar Andrade, wrote to the project consultant: “This Port of Belize Cruise Project has tremendous environmental and social considerations for it to be tabled as a viable project. Specifically, for us at TASA the dumping of dredge spoils next to the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve which has high economic value for the country i.e. in the vicinity of $450mn Bzd per annum. The annual storm protection value of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses on Turneffe has been estimated at $191 million USD (BZ$382 million) per year and tourism and fishing another 70 mn Bzd per annum. In addition, if one takes into consideration the total cruise calls and numbers coming to Belize City and potential for service delivery it would be very difficult to justify another cruise project in Belize City and surrounds without potentially jeopardizing the feasibility of one or the other.”

Nadia Bood of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told us this afternoon that Belize’s various environmental organizations and even a few government ones like the Fisheries Department have banded together to write the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) and Department of the Environment (DOE) about their concerns, jointly and severally. In addition to the aforementioned these include the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS); Belize Audubon Society (BAS), who co-manages the Half Moon Caye Wildlife Sanctuary and Great Blue Hole Natural Monument in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll; the Southern Environmental Association (SEA) and others. They also plan to be present both in person and visually at Wednesday’s meeting.

We are told that no approval has been granted to the third cruise project, the Port of Magical Belize based near the Sibun River, for which consultations were held in May.

 

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