There are certain names that are just synonymous with controversy and San Pedro developer, David Mitchell, is one of them. This time, Mitchell's mega project on the south of the island has come under scrutiny mainly because no Environmental Impact Assessment has been completed and at least part of the project is underway. And while the islanders feel the project is important, they also feel the appropriate process must be followed. Marion Ali reports.
Marion Ali, Reporting
La Isla Bonita has remained a prime tourism destination for its natural beauty. And multimillion dollar projects that appear to threaten the pristine environment, will stir controversy. Today, the group at Sunset Grill was not large in numbers but the exchange was fiery.
Billy Leslie, Chairperson, San Pedro Tour Guide Assn.
"You are saying you are doing tests, you're going this. Present that information because we want to have the right to challenge what you are saying because you are not the sole hierarchy in this country."
Frank Panton, Consultant, Royal Belize Estates
"If you're gonna sit over yonder and wait to work instead of sitting down and working together with us, then I think we will always be confrontational."
"Present your findings so that we can have-because there are many qualified people like yourselves-and let's put it and let's see if that is what we're finding. We just can't go with what you say."
According to Consultant with Royal Belize Estates, Frank Panton, the project aims to create 60 x 90 parcels of land for housing. And to meet that demand, a road measuring one mile long and including two bridges must be built from east to west to reach the area and other government lands. But because the land encompasses marshy wetlands and mangroves, the work that has been done and the speed applied to it before an Environmental Impact Assessment is complete, has come under fierce criticism. To our amazement, even the Councillor who attended, Juan Alamilla, did not agree with it even though it was the Deputy Mayor, Nesto Gomez, who wrote the developer, David Mitchel, asking for the work to be expedited.
Juan Alamilla, Councillor, San Pedro Town
"We are working with them because we are getting some benefit from it. It's a commission - whatever land is being sold there, we have to get a commission for the roads and everything here. We are trying to provide them with whatever, but that doesn't mean that they can go and do whatever they want. They have to do things properly. That doesn't mean that they will take advantage of it and do whatever they want."
"Is he taking advantage?"
"From what I saw, he's taking advantage because he wants to go at a further speed. Why he wants to go at a further speed, because it benefits him. That is what I am seeing, because we want benefits but we want things to be done properly."
"The developer was very clear that Mr. Panton will present to the public is a proper project of how the road with water access will be conducted. To date, we have not seen any. We are very concerned, because it doesn't matter if it's a project approved by the Town Council or a project for the Town Council, every project on this country should go through the same procedures."
Elito Arceo, Co-Chair, San Pedro Citizens for Sustainable Dev.
"I don't think they're going to do an E.I.A. and that's unfortunate for us. It's a problem because, if you listen to Mr. Panton, he's already talking about the swamp and stuff, which of course, is not a swamp. As Billy stated, it's an eco-friendly area where a lot of fish live, but there's no plan."
But Panton disagrees with these views.
"Anytime something decent is going on, I think locally our country, there have been always a lot of people who always want to slow or stop progress because of procedures. Now, I don't knock it completely, I would do it, too, if I had to, but I would think that procedures aren't being thrown down along the wayside. I was asked to see that the project stopped until we discussed some more. I promised-I agreed that if it is asked strongly by enough people, we should heed it."
And heed the request is what Panton says the company will do until all parties concerned can sit down and agree on the way forward. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.
David Mitchel gained ownership of the land in compensation for a small area near Caye Caulker he acquired under the previous administration.