Channel 5 News
Residents of the Placencia Peninsula may be known for their laid back lifestyle but last night they defied the stereotype to rise up in opposition to what many believe is an impending ecological and social disaster for this rapidly growing part of the country. The occasion was a public hearing called by the Department of Environment as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process to hear views on the proposed establishment of what would be the biggest resort complex ever constructed in Belize. The project, known as Ara Macao, Spanish for Scarlet Macaw, involves over a thousand units of hotel and condominium accommodation, a four hundred boat marina, hundred and six thousand square foot casino and eighteen hole golf course, spread over six hundred acres near Riversdale at the north end of the peninsula. Although the venue for the gathering was a small classroom in Seine Bight's primary school, when around three hundred people showed up, the meeting shifted to the parking lot. Following a PowerPoint presentation on behalf of the U.S. based developer given by E.I.A. author Jose "Pepe" Garcia and various consultants, the public was invited to ask questions and offer comments. And that's when the fun started. Despite a sometimes raucous atmosphere, most of the questions were serious and pointed ... and raised major concerns about beach access, erosion, pollution, social discrimination and employment. But most of the crowd's ire was directed at the sheer size of the project, which at completion would more than quadruple the present population of the peninsula. The sentiments expressed at the consultation will be considered by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee who will then vote whether to approve, disapprove or modify the developer's plans. In the end, however, the final say rests with the Minister of Natural Resources, Johnny Briceño.