NGO says developers have caused damage in nature reserve

The issue has been brewing for weeks in the Deep South where environmental groups and the San Pedro Columbia community are mounting opposition to the proposed construction of a dam. The site is the Central River that runs through the Columbia River Forest Reserve and the Bladen Nature Reserve, two core conservation areas. One organization that has been vocal against the developers Ya’axchѐ, is a co-manager of the reserve. The Belize Hydro Electric and Development Company is said to have started clearing even though they only had a concession agreement that allowed them to study the reserve but did not grant them access to the protected area. The company later obtained a research permit, which executive Director of Ya'axchѐ, Lisel Alamilla, says they also breached. Alamilla along with Bladen Nature Reserve Committee Member, Michael Cus, took their place on the couch of Open Your Eyes and spoke of the extensive damage caused to the reserve. Both agreed that they are not saying no to development… they just don’t want it in the protected areas.

Lisel Alamilla, Executive Director, Ya’axchѐ

“They reopened about thirteen miles of the old logging road, they additionally opened about two point five miles of new road, they blocked creeks. Usually when you build, you put a culvert; they didn’t do that and just blocked it. They cleared trees; they built the road in slopes greater than twenty percent so there are issues of erosion. But also most important too is the fact that opening this road really increases access for hunters and the whole xateros that are coming from Guatemala. In addition to that they also cleared approximately one acre in the Bladen Nature Reserve, which the nature reserve is the strictest category of protection.”

Michael Cus, Committee Member, Bladen Nature Reserve

“The committee is looking at mostly the social impact of the community, which is a total of eleven buffer communities. Not just that, there's the entire watershed system, the marine eco-system and so forth. It’s a rather wide, wide impact that it will create. So we as the committee will continue to gather as much information for us to familiarize ourselves and to educate our residents.”

Lisel Alamilla

“It is very concerning that you would allow someone to go into a core conservation area and contemplate a dam. It really would bring into question the commitment to protected areas. NGO’s are working hard, raising funds, trying to do sometimes the impossible to manage areas. The PACT, Protected Areas Conservation Trust, contributes to this and in one scoop we will undo it.”

According to Cus and Alamilla, the community was kept in the dark about the proposed dam. They also claim that the way the hydro electric company is carrying out their project undermines the protected areas and the work of NGO’s.

Michael Cus

“People are concerned. Why? Because in the first place, there wasn’t any consultation done with the public. I can recall they had a meeting November first but it was not a proper consultation and at that time work was already ongoing within Colombia River Forest Reserve and Bladen nature reserve. Basically, they are contravening the department because there are violations of the permit.”

Lisel Alamilla

“We don’t know. As far as we are concerned, when we need to do research, we don’t need to have a bulldozer in a protected area. You can go in with bag packs, you can get people to assist you to carry your equipment. You do not need to be bulldozing if that is your intention. The laws clearly specify that there should be minimal damage to the environment. They cleared an acre in a nature reserve. That alone shows disregard for our laws and which by the way they said they didn’t know it was a nature reserve and they didn’t know that they had to get permits, which is rather strange because they had built a dam before so how come they don’t know?”

So what’s next? The Bladen Nature Reserve committee is now contemplating filing an injunction to halt works until further assessments are completed and the proper measures are in place.

http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=26337
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