The idea for a beautification project of western San Pedro was laid on the table a while ago, and on Thursday, January 13th, 2011, Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. announced on a local television show, that the IDB (International Development Bank) awarded $13M USD for four projects in Belize. Among these projects was the $6M San Pedro Saca Chispas Project which included plans for a boardwalk.
The preliminary concept was presented to Stakeholders (individuals that would be directly impacted by the project) in a meeting held on Monday, November 9th, 2010. It included a multipurpose pier development and sports field; a sunset boardwalk; lighting and trash receptacles, public open space, landscaping the area for beautification purposes, shaded seating areas and potential fish cleaning stands or a fresh fish market. With its facilities for customs, immigration and border management all located in one easy access area which would also house a terminal for all water taxis, international visitors would have a very convenient entry and exit experience.
Well, that initial meeting did not go over too well with the stakeholders present, and consequently the designers went back to the drawing board and came up with a design that they hoped would be more acceptable to all involved.
The new revised concept was to have customized piers to replace each existing personal pier. The new design also included an area to haul out and repair boats. In case of hurricanes, the new plan had a designated pull out area in the Saca Chispas field which would have a permanent gate. The Boardwalk in the revised design would be ˝ it's originally planned length, still providing for small businesses/vendors for food and drink. An artificial beach was also included for people to rest or watch the sunset.
A meeting was held on Friday January 14th at the San Pedro Town Council and attended by Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation; Mayor Elsa Paz, Members of the STP (Sustainable Tourism Project) and stakeholders in the Saca Chispas area, where the new concept was presented.
While stakeholders maintain that they are not objecting to change and even find it necessary for some sort of a beautification project in the area and welcome the prospect of creating a state-of-the-art sporting facility for the island; the "lack of respect" in planning what is to become of western San Pedro - their livelihood for the past 50 years - was of dire concern.
Stakeholders expressed the emotional ties that many of them have with the area slated to become the board walk; some fishermen have used that area for over 50 years as their work stations. Docking areas have been passed from generation to generation. Western San Pedro Town is the only part of the island that provides a glimpse into what San Pedro started off as, a fishing industry. Residents stressed that that is the aspect of San Pedro that initially invited visitors to the island and still does.
While the project claims to provide stakeholders with private modified docks, the terms and conditions are unsure and stakeholders feel they have no security that any of the claims will actually come to pass as they have not received lease rights to the area they currently occupy.
Apart from the leasing rights and the possible destruction of an area of much historical value for the island, residents involved are concerned about the inevitable damage that this project would cause on the already poor ecosystem that exists in and around the island. One stakeholder pointed out that the dredging that would be needed for the project - the destruction of much needed mangrove habitat- depleting the breeding ground for many marine lives that later migrate to the sea and reefs - in effect would negatively affect a major section of the tourism industry.
The San Pedro Sun attempted to reach Hon. Manuel Heredia for comment on the outcome of the latest meeting, but he was unavailable. In speaking with a representative from the STP, we were informed that the STP, Minister of Tourism and the Belize Tourism Board will be regrouping to discuss the outcome of January 14th's meeting at a later date. San Pedro Sun