There is growing public concern about the status of a development in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve by a group of businessmen led by former Immigration Minister Elvin Penner. His phone number and name are listed as a contact on the billboard welcoming persons to a planned subdivision for an acreage said to be de-reserved as far back as ten years ago. That de-reservation, we are told, was posted in the Government Gazette by means of a statutory instrument. But do the owners have environmental clearance to subdivide? Photos taken of the area show roads built along the ridge tops and one built into a heavily vegetated valley where there is a waterfall. The developments have reportedly caused significant impact on the watershed in the area, as well as cenotes in the Pine Ridge. The Reserve is managed by the Forest Department, but the Department of the Environment is responsible for any environmental impact assessment of the area. Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria confirmed to us that no application for any subdivision in the area has been received from the investor or the Land Utilization Authority of the Ministry of Natural Resources, and therefore no EIA has been developed. We are told that the area is part of the plans for the second leg of the Sustainable Tourism Programme of the Belize Tourism Board. Chief Executive Officer Percival Cho provides additional information.
Dr. Percival Cho, C.E.O., Ministry of Environment
“Mountain Pine Ridge is a mosaic of reserve land and private land which has been established since the 1990s when the area was initially reserved. As you know, there is private land at the Five Sisters Lodge or the former Five Sisters Lodge and Blancaneaux has and there’s private lands on the area around the Hidden Valley Inn and other areas. So there’s a mosaic of land tenure there. There had been no recent de-reservations in the Mountain Pine Ridge that has gone through. In fact, the National Parks Act, as amended in 2015 makes the process of de-reservation not an overnight thing, you understand. So there has been no recent de-reservations. There is some new development in the Bald Hills area, if you’ve traveled there recently to the Baldy Beacon you will see on the left hand side some development there and we are looking at that closely from an environmental point of view and we have looked at the issue of whether or not clearance was issued for these developments and we have ascertained that there has been none and we are going through the process now of looking more closely at those developments.”