And while The Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage is agitating against offshore drilling, the Orange Walk based NORTHERN TOUR GUIDES ASSOCIATION has raised the alarm about suspected oil prospecting activities in the New River Lagoon area. That's where they make their bread and butter as tour guides for Lamanai. They say that's 33 centuries of history dating back to the Mayan era that's being put on the line and today they called out to press to sound the alarm. But Monica Bodden found that at this time they may be just shadowboxing....
Horizon Bell Florida is the name of this beaten up wooden vessel which is anchored down by the Riverside area in Orange Walk Town. It may seem like nothing much to look at but for many tour guides of the Northern Tour Guides Association, they strongly believe this aged vessel will be prospecting for oil in the new River Lagoon Area.
Wilfredo Novelo - Member, Northern Tour Guides Association
"That boat last week Monday I saw in on the New River for the first time, it is the largest boat that has ever come into the New River that I can remember since I was a child going to school. The following day when I was coming I decided to stop and speak to the guy who was fishing, I told him like this 'your boat won't be able to pass underneath of the bridge and he said 'we will cut off the top' If they will cut off the top then it means that they are determined to bring it beyond the bridge. We have the bypass and the Tower Hill bridge and then we decided to do some investigations and the captain of the boat, along with Mr. Lucio of CTV 3 boarded the boat because he invited us over, he showed us the engine room, he says this has 4 engine in excellent state of work with 2,000 gallons of diesel each. I think some deception is involve because now the supposedly owners is telling us that they will dismantle the boat, why would you dismantle a boat that is in good state of work? And then the captain told us that the boat has work in the Gulf of Mexico and now we are hearing that they want to convert it into a restaurant."
The owner of the boat was not around when we arrived but according to the captain - who is also a certified Tour Guide of San Pedro - this vessel was transported from Settee River in South Stann Creek all the way to Orange Walk Town to be refurbished. He said after work is being down on the boat, they do plan to open a floating restaurant onboard.
Another concern for these Tour guides is the building of boats and barges in Shipyard. According to Novelo, they have been enquiring the purpose of the vessels and were told that they are for oil exploration.
"For quite a couple of months now about 5 months the tour guides started noticing that there were manufacturing badges in Ship Yard by the Mennonites and camp one right there on the ground we actually saw the metal skeletons and frames coming off and we ask what was that for, they say that is for transporting oil. As far as I thought maybe BNE wanted the building of the barges, but as time pass by we started to see that they were putting these huge pressure jacks on them and again when we inquire they said 'oh that is for drilling for oil' but then logic tells us one thing that boat and barges cannot pass underneath the Tower Hill Toll bridge because they are too high. So, simple logic is telling us that they will be brought somewhere out here for the prospective of oil. Now we are just about half a mile away from the New River Lagoon, This is the Lemonal creek and if you notice carefully this is manmade - that is not natural, you can see that recent dredging just occurred. One of our guys came here to fish and he actually saw the heavy equipment - bulldozers, excavators on that side. Had it not been for the rains that started three week pre-maturely in May, I think it's less than 100 feet to join that manmade canal to the Lemonal Creek. Then the barges can easily go in."
Novelo confirmed that at this time there is only speculation about oil prospecting activities to happen in the new River Lagoon Area.
"No, not at this point. We are just being proactive. This week we will be contacting the Department of Geology for them to give us an official confirmation or denial. That is very important."
The New River Lagoon is the largest freshwater lake in the country.