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#91887 - 09/16/04 02:45 PM From Miami Herald
Dana Offline
Posted on Wed, Sep. 15, 2004



I M A G E S


A man pulls a ferry carrying Belizeans and their bicycles across the San Pedro River in Belize last month. Opponets say a bridge connecting the island to seaside resorts would destroy the island's identity. KERYN BROMBERG/FOR THE HERALD




BELIZE


Foes say San Pedro bridge will only lead to trouble

To city planners, a planned bridge linking an island with tourist resorts in Belize is a needed step forward. But hoteliers and natives say `it's going to ruin everything.'

BY BENJAMIN GEDAN

Special to The Herald


SAN PEDRO, Belize - For the tourists, scuba divers and honeymooners, Ambergris Island is still a placid getaway for swimming with stingrays and napping on Caribbean beaches protected by the hemisphere's largest barrier reef.

But to many Belizeans it is the source of a dispute over a tiny piece of urban infrastructure, a planned 120-foot bridge linking San Pedro, the island's only city, with miles of seaside resorts to the north.

The project is favored by locals who want to expand the city but has angered hoteliers, mostly foreign investors who say the bridge will yield increased traffic and crime and hamper Belize's fastest growing tourist site.

''It's going to ruin everything,'' said Rose Crawford, 33, a chef at Rendezvous, a pricey Thai restaurant near the Journey's End resort. ``All kinds of people will come over.''

There is much at stake. Belize, just a two-hour flight from Miami, relies heavily on tourism, particularly scuba divers and nature lovers lured by its protected wildlife. Caye Ambergris, a 25-mile-long island in northern Belize, played host to the first Temptation Island two years ago.

NATIVE POPULATION

Nearly all 12,000 native Belizeans here live in San Pedro, a mile-wide, seven-mile-long city. They can travel north only by crossing the San Pedro River on a small barge that carries people, bicycles and golf carts, or a small ferry. At rush hour, both are filled, a difficulty that has discouraged residents from moving north despite worsening congestion in San Pedro.

''We were born here and we need to move north to think about the future,'' said the city's mayor, Elsa Paz. ``We have no property for our children. The biggest part of the island is in the north . . . There is a demand.''

Local supporters, including former town council member Abel Guerrero, 44, argue that the Boca del Rio Bridge will permit passage only for souped-up golf carts, with thick tires to travel the single dirt road on the northern part of the island.

But the $227,000, nine-foot-high bridge will be wide enough for full-sized vehicles, leaving opponents fearful of future road improvements and traffic jams. They also fear crime, now nearly nonexistent on the northern part, even though it's cut off from the city's police force.

''It's peaceful,'' said Maylin Ordonez, 24, a receptionist at Journey's End. ``That's why we don't want to build it.''

BUILDING TOURISM

Belize, the only English-speaking country in Central America, has been steadily building its tourist sector, in part by excavating Mayan ruins. The small country, with only 273,000 legal residents, is subject to frequent hurricanes. But tourism still attracts more money than sugar cane, citrus or banana exports.

Visitors to Ambergris Caye, along with the resort owners there, say that trend could be reversed if builders bridge the gap between San Pedro and the north.

Michelle Muller, 52, visited Belize last month from her horse ranch in Arizona and said the bridge project could undermine her plans to buy a house on Ambergris Caye.

''You come here because where else do you need to ride a little ferry to come home at night,'' she said.

Work has not begun on the bridge, and one stumbling block in its way might be its price tag.

The seven-member San Pedro town council has approved the proposal. But Paz said her first priority is installing cobblestones on the city's three sandy roads, a $1.6 million project for a city with an annual $1.1 million budget.

There are 1,800 registered vehicles in San Pedro, Paz said, and traffic is her top concern.

DEVELOPMENT BOOM

Paz, 41, said she is hesitant to frighten away tourists, who generate $20 million in national hotel taxes annually. The country has helped the island's development with lenient zoning laws and a lower income tax. And despite the destruction of nearly every dock by Hurricane Keith in 2000, a boom in commercial development is continuing.

The bridge would help extend fire, police and sanitation services to North Ambergris. And a police checkpoint could prevent thieves from plundering the resorts and luxury beach houses, Paz has told nervous property owners.

Still, Paz, whose family helped found San Pedro, said Belizeans cannot forever defer to the demands of investors and tourists, who flee after every hurricane and frequently sell their real estate.

''We have to stay and live here,'' she said. ``They have to understand that it's part of the island.''
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#91888 - 09/16/04 04:35 PM Re: From Miami Herald
Denny Shane Offline
People come to AC for many reasons, but I think the main reason is the very VERY laid back way of life... to wit, the little hand pulled ferry.

Sure it has pros and cons... but in my humble opinion, looking at both sides, weighing the ups and downs... I have to side with the folks that do not want a bridge built. The north side right now does have an attraction to visitors and that attraction is the fact that they are cut off from the southern part of the island. Likewise, in the past I have shunned away from a lot of properties on the north end just for that reason, opting for the more hectic style of the southern end of the island.

But I think a new structure would really, eventually do the opposite of what the town council thinks right now.

Don't interfer with your success... leave things the way they are.
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#91889 - 09/16/04 06:08 PM Re: From Miami Herald
Now Danny Offline
Going to fix it till it's broke. confused

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#91890 - 09/16/04 07:07 PM Re: From Miami Herald
MALIBU Offline
I prefer the North side when visiting AC - with this bridge all the reasons I prefer the N will be gone. The serene quietness will be filled with 'city' noises, the seclusion will be filled with people, the air will be filled with golf cart smell.

Just say no.

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#91891 - 09/17/04 02:18 PM Re: From Miami Herald
GAY AND DAVID Offline
i don't think it matters what the people want.
just like anything else,
tourist money talks

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#91892 - 09/17/04 02:27 PM Re: From Miami Herald
KB Offline
I think it is quite clear from the Mayor's comments what the people want. "The People" being the citizens of Belize who live and work on the island. Of course the needs of wealthy ex-pats and tourists should always be considered first shouldn't they! Has anyone noticed that there are lots of locals who have been extremely successful in business. Perhaps they really do know what is best for themselves.

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