Stake Bank Developer hails project but environmentalists say not so fast!
Monday, 28 August 2006
By Angel Novelo - Staff Reporter
A multi-million dollar tourism development project at Stake Bank and North Drowned Cayes off the coast of Belize City, is underway.
According to its developer Michael Feinstein, it could be a tremendous boost to Belize’s cruiseship tourism business.
But environmentalists are concerned a project of this magnitude could have unforseen marine, environmental and social impacts.
Feinstein, whose company, Stake Bank Enterprises is doing the development, says there is an urgent need for investment in the cruiseship tourism business.
He says the industry is on the decline because there exists no proper docking facilities for these floating palaces in Belize.
He admitted his business proposal could bring about a dramatic increase in cruise tourism, with as many as 1.5 million tourists coming in each year.
He confirmed the project includes the construction of three luxury hotels, a restaurant, a causeway that will link Belize City to the two islands and the construction of a docking pier as well as a marina.
Two of three hotels will be built on Drowned Caye and the third on Stake Bank Caye.
The causeway would run from the recently constructed Marine Parade Boulevard on northside Belize City to the twin islands, which are located approximately four miles east of Belize City.
The Stake Bank resort, aside from being declared an official port of entry, would be used exclusively for tourists. The island and has already been given Export Processing Zone status.
There are five major components of the Stake Bank project. These include the dredging and excavation of an 8.6 kilometre access channel, reclamation of the Stake Bank Caye to increase its effective size from 21.6 acres to 41.95 acres, construction of a main pier, capable of accommodating as many as four voyager class cruiseships, construction of a primary resort facility with theme park and construction of a 60-slip luxury yacht marina with a dock to receive the supplies which will be needed on the island.
The project is expected to take two years to complete.
Feinstein told Reporter major work will not commence until his company receives approval to build the causeway, since this is a key element of the whole development plan.
His company has already submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment (E.I.A.) study to the Department of the Environment (DOE) for the Stake Bank project.
Separate E.I.A. stu-dies are also needed for the Drowned Caye project and the causeway.
According to the Stake Bank E.I.A., the development on that island is designed to accommodate 3,455 people on any one occasion.
It will maintain a work force of 375 full time staff members and is to be built at a cost of U.S. $25 million.
The E.I.A. pinpointed some project activities that are likely to give rise to environmental impacts.These include the dredging and reclamation operations and the accumulation and disposal of domestic effluents and solid waste.
The E.I.A. further states the most notable impact of the reclamation on Stake Bank will be a decrease or elimination of roosting habitats, loss of mangrove and a loss (decrease) of nursery habitats.
Both Drowned Caye and Stake Bank are close to Swallow Caye, a wildlife sanctuary reserve which is home to a substantial manatee population.
Environmentalists like Maria Vega, the Secretary of Friends of Swallow Caye Organisation, which the Forestry Department co-manages says such project could have significant impacts on the area.
Vega cautioned one of the main reasons the Musa government declared Swallow Caye a reserve area, was to protect its marine life, especially the Manatees.
She recalled prior to July 10, 2003, when the Statutory Instrument declaring Swallow Caye a wildlife sanctuary came into effect, heavy trafficking of vessels posed a danger to the Manantees in the area.
She believes the Stake Bank project will dramatically increase marine traffic in the area.
Vega said her organisation has not been officially informed of the project and was never consulted on the possible environmental impacts.
She said her office recently received a telephone call seeking information on the boundaries of the protected area of Swallow Caye as GOB has been asked to constrict the boundaries of the protected area.
Feinstein said his company has not asked for a reduction of the caye boundary, but is looking for ways to change the perimeter to give more area space to the caye.
Asked if his company had ever consulted with Friends of Swallow Caye about the project, Feinstein said as far as he knows it was the government that was to get in contact with the organisation.
Sources at the Department of the Environment say the department also has concerns about the marine, social and economic impacts of the project.
One big concern is the proposed causeway. It could change the flow of currents and slow the rate of water moving from north to south or from south to north.
This could result in the pier at the Port of Belize receiving more silt than usual and to silt more quickly.
This would result in an increase in maintenance of the area, and the proposed Carnival cruiseship pier in that area would compound the problem.
There is also concern on the height of the proposed elevated causeway which at its highest elevation will be some 30 feet above sea level and may be too low for certain vessels.
One of the economic impacts is that the elevated causeway will effectively eliminate the business of tendering.
Environmentalists say that projects like Feinstein’s always look good on paper, but developers usually fall short of complying with the demands set out to protect the environment.
This is so, they say, because developers look for ways to cut costs as much as possible.
But Feinstein is optimistic and says there is nothing negative about his project.
He said such a huge project could only benefit everyone, including those living in the Belize City area since the tax collected from tourists would have a positive trickle-down effects.