Last week, private consultant for South Beach Belize Jose “Pepe” Garcia of Tunish Nah Consultants appeared on the Reef Radio’s Good Morning San Pedro Showwhere he made public that the mega development whose Environmental Impact Assessment his company prepared had been approved. South Beach Belize is a proposed investment that seeks to develop the southern tip of San Pedro Town. According to Garcia the concept of the master plan has been approved in its entirety, but in principle, only phase one can be developed. This was confirmed by the Chief Environmentalist in the Department of Environment (DOE) Martin Algeria.
“On February 10th, environmental clearance was given and the Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) was approved,” stated Alegria, adding that “the other phases will be approved depending on the Environmental Compliance and Performance of the previous phase or as stated in the ECP.”
Phase I will comprise of 131.94 acres and will involve the construction of the casino, hotel and residential lots; a total of 90.32 acres. 25.43 acres will be for roads within the subdivision and 11.28 acres for access roads. The remaining five acres will be for the utility zone. This phase is a quarter of the proposed project (25.5%).
What activities will be allowed to be completed on Phase I of the project? *Excavation of the canal network and its associated infrastructure to ensure a proper flushing effect. *417,822 m3 of fill material/spoils of dredging of the sub-tidal inner lagoon and the excavation of the Grand Canal Network. *About 80 acres of scrub, dwarf and fringing mangrove forest will be applied for clear/trim/prune. Of the approved Phase 1, only 61 % of the area will be utilized. According to Alegria the developer must leave a buffer zone of mangrove around the lagoon and where there is no mangrove, the developer will be asked to plant mangrove to minimize the impact on the environment.
Phase I of South Beach might take some three years to reach completion. Many concerns were raised as to the effects that phase one will have on Hol Chan Marine Reserve. To this, Alegria stated that the effects will be minimal since Hol Chan is far south of phase one. In addition a buffer zone of 66 feet of mangrove will be left untouched around Phase I, which is intended to minimize the impact. Moreover, upon completion, Alegria explained that the investor has committed to integrate his solid waste into the National Solid Waste Plan which is scheduled to come into effect as early as July of 2009. Wastewater will be treated via a tertiary treatment plant.
The Belize Audubon Society (BAS), who for months has refrained from comments regarding South Beach, issued a release stating their position on the mega development. BAS stated that:
* in this particular case, the proximity of Hol Chan Marine Reserve to the proposed development, places the project in a sensitive area, making it imperative that any development be approached with caution;
* the infrastructural demands of these developments cannot be met given the current systems in place (such as solid waste disposal and labor force); and
* given the global economic climate, all financial inclinations are that investments in second home mortgages and vacation properties are decreasing in viability, increasing the likelihood that mega projects may be left unfinished.
In response to the BAS release Garcia stated that, BAS as an agency and organization is a member of NEAC (National Environmental Appraisal Committee) and could have raised those issued during the NEAC consultation, adding that the issue had been properly addressed, deliberated and approved in concept by the majority of the NEAC members. Garcia went on to explain that while it is true that dredging sites for the other phases have not been identified, it is because the other phases have not been approved in principle but only as a entire master plan. Once approval in principle of phase 2 and subsequent phases is obtained, demarcation, burrow pit and the necessary studies will be done.
BAS ended their release by stating that, “this project (South Beach Belize) is expansive with great potential to cause negative impacts to society and environment, therefore BAS cannot support the initiative.”
The issue of South Beach resurfaces at a time when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is questioning mega investments near and within the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site. While UNESCO’s concern is still a burning issue for many, for Alegria, UNESCO might be basing their comment by skewed information. “I am concerned because it is Belizes’ reputation that is at stake,” stated Alegria, but “on what basis can UNESCO express concerns when they didn’t even met with the pertinent authorities.” Alegeria stating that “yes, large investment, mangrove clearance, dredging and other activities add stress to the ecosystem, but how can UNESCO come up with such conclusions,” questioned Alegria ending by stating that, “UNESCO consulted with NGO’s, not with GOB, which is not right.”