The Rage Against Waterloo’s Port Plan
And while those officers were in distress, so are conservation minded Belizeans after learning that the expansion project for the Port of Belize is has come back to the forefront.
The Ashcroft Alliance's Waterloo Investment Holdings Limited is planning to expand the lands owned by the port to create a new cargo area and bulk cargo facilities as well as include new cruise terminal facilities.
The cruise terminal includes two new piers that will allow for the shoreside berthing of four Oasis class cruise ships. Several other features and facilities will be added to entice more tourists to come off the cruise ships.
And that's the goal, according to the consultants for the project - more tourism means more revenue for the country. During last night's public consultation for the project, they tried to sell this to the general public, but received plenty of pushback from citizens concerned about the environmental impacts that the project will cause. Courtney Menzies has a recap of the consultation.
Environmentally conscious Belizeans have lodged their complaints about Waterloo's expansion project for the Port of Belize at last night's virtual public consultation hosted by the DOE. The four hour long consultation kicked off with a presentation from Waterloo consultant, Dr Dionne Chamberlain-Miranda and Allan Herrera, the principal consultant.
Dr Chamberlain started off by debunking misconceptions about the project, including the much supposed 10 million cubic meters of unsuitable material that will be dredged and then dumped into the sea, near the barrier reef. According to Chamberlain, that figure is inaccurate.
Dr Dionne Chamberlain-Miranda, Managing Director, Chamberlain Consulting
"The very first thing that I would like to state also is that the actually dredging volume is less than 7.5 million cubic meters and not the 10 million cubic meters that has been sent out in the media. It is - and actually less than 5 million will be placed offshore so it's not the gravity of the 10 that was mentioned in the media as well."
Whether it's 10 million or 5 million, environmental NGO's such as Oceana and Fragments of Hope, and the wider public, have expressed concern about the dredging. This dredging is to deepen the 7.5 meter long access channel to make it 12 meters deep and 190 meters wide, and also to allow the turning basin to be 550 meters wide. Herrera explained why this is necessary.
Allan Herrera, Principal Consultant
"It is important that the good facilities are there so that the ships that come into the port to trade and to take out our products abroad that we don't have to restrict certain ships and we don't have to exclude any ships. and so it is important that the port is deepened to that these larger vessels can come in."
But what the consultants are also claiming is that no major damage will actually be done to the reef. In fact, Luis Prieto of Piedroba Consulting Group, said that the material that will be dredged can be used in alternative ways.
Luis Prieto, Partner, Piedroba Consulting Group
"All the material that's being pumped into the EPZ area which is the out land area near the EWLS Lagoons just south of the Port Loyola area, all of that material will only be used for beneficial use in the port facility itself or it will be made available to the general public for their own beneficial use."
In addition they are also claiming that there will be no harm to marine life nor will there be an impact on the livelihoods of fishermen.
Allan Herrera, Principal Consultant
"Within the area that is to be dredged it's not, it's by no stretch of the imagination rich habitat for marine species. We mentioned the high turbidity levels in that area so the habitats are very sparse, they're very poor, and it's not an area that is known to any Belizean as an important fishery area. It might be a migratory route."
But the public is not inclined to believe them. One of the various zoom calls during the consultation was from a frustrated resident, who said that the consultants were essentially lying to the public.
Voice of: Concerned Resident
"You guys are trying to insult our intelligence, really and truly, talking about there's no potential impact at all to the reef from the proposed dumping activity. That is totally absurd but I just wanna contain by frustration and say that I just think, given the fact that we just managed to work with the government to get the Belize barrier reef off the World Heritage Endanger list, I think this is such a stupid move to even entertain the idea of dumping the dredge spoil in the marine environment and so close to the reef. And don't tell me that modeling has shown that it won't impact the reef."
And while residents paid keen attention to the consultation, so did the CEO in the Ministry of the Blue Economy. Kennedy Carrillo also called in to let the consultants know that they need to be involved in the process.
Voice of: Martha Kennedy Carrillo, CEO, Ministry of The Blue Economy
"The mandate of our ministry is to ensure that there is perfect equilibrium between the use of our ocean resources for economic growth and the protection and conservation of our rich oceanic ecosystem. We are very keen on learning more about this EIA and please keep in mind that when this project started there was no Ministry of the Blue Economy but now we are here and we must be a part of these important deliberations and decisions."
But while the consultants insisted that Belize's status as a World Heritage site will not be affected, and that tourism stakeholders should not be concerned, the takeaway from the consultation is that Belizeans are closely paying attention and are lobbying against the expansion project for the Port of Belize.
OCEANA and Conservation NGO Community Say No to Waterloo
Regular citizens are not the only ones pushing back against the idea of the cruise port.
Today, several environmental NGO's signed a letter of objection addressed to the Prime Minister, John Briceno. These NGO's include WWF, BTIA, Oceana, Belize Audubon Society, FRagments of Hope, and more. In the letter, they raised three important points.
The first is that ocean dumping should not even be considered for Belize, because of the dangers it poses to the barrier reef and other marine life, and the idea should be abandoned immediately.
The second is that a comprehensive cruise port strategy should be prepared by an independent consultant before the continuation of any ports currently in development.
And finally, they are asked that the laws be revised so that the public can play a larger role in the management of shared natural resources. Spokesperson for the NGO's, Nadia Bood from World Wildlife Fund, responded to some of the claims made last night at the public consultation. We spoke to her via ZOOM:
Nadia Bood, Head, WWF Program Office
"They made a lot of false statements and I may touch on a couple of those. One of their technical experts mention the fact that oh it's the same material that was washed up and brought to the sea that will be dredged up and dump back into the sea. They didn't even acknowledge the fact that these are soil material that over time have been impacted by land basis sources of runoff pollutants. Over the years you have the accumulation of heavy metals, another serious hazardous pollutants that will be dugged up and then they are proposing to dump that on sea. We are recommending that instead of dumping at sea to dump it on land, for example. One the experts also mentioned that the reason that they are not considering the land portion is because the material is hazardous. They actually mentioned that the material is hazardous and they would have to contemplate making sure that all the water is evaporated from whatever they dredge up before even considering transporting anywhere. The main fact that they mentioned that it shows that the material is hazardous and if we think about the marine environment which is very sensitive to any minor changes in water quality in nutrient input, it can result in die off the reef, it could kill marine life, plus we don't know what could be accumulated in the tissue of marine organisms, commercial ones, fishes and how that would affect our health if we consume. Another issue, they keep on mentioning that the area is a dead zone. Using some information from old data we spoke to them about the impact on that area on the grounds and migratory paths to Manatees - those were not effectively addressed and not to mention the impact that we will happen on the mangroves and potential impact on flooding in that particular area. But as I mentioned before one of our key concerns is the dumping at sea. It has just been 2 years since we got off the UNESCO world heritage endanger list. I work for world wildlife fund, we work closely with the government to make sure that the country is able to address those indicators that the world heritage committee had ask the country to address in order for them to be considered to be taken off the list. So we were able to do that, the country celebrated and its just 2 years later that they are proposing something like this? Come on. Australia has been on the endanger list because of the similar thing of dumping within their marine environment. If we pursue a project like this, this will set precedence, if one project could do it, who is to say that many other projects won't try to do it as well."
Just before 6 tonight, the Prime Minister responded to the letter, simply saying that he will forward it to the appropriate ministers. He added too that the project has not been approved as yet and must go through its entire process before it can even get to Cabinet for consideration. A release from the Fisheries Department also stated that the will continue their review of the EIA on the project.
Four Cruise Terminals is too Much Says B.T.I.A.
With three proposed cruise terminals to be constructed in the same geographic location within the vicinity of Belize City, namely: Port Coral, Port of Magical Belize and Port Loyola Cruise Port, B.T.I.A. is saying that Belize will not be able to handle the saturation of visitors disembarking on its shores. That says, Burgos, will not be sustainable.
John Burgos, Executive Director, B.T.I.A.
“When it comes to the cruise port part, we have some questions as well. We already have the Stake Bank Cruise Port being under development. We have this port that possibly may come under and then we have the Magic Port of Belize Cruise Terminal that has already received an MOU from the government, support from government. So we have to look at that and that’s the reason why I firstly stated that overnight tourism should be the focus and not cruise tourism. Belize does not need three cruise ports, we already have one, remember Harvest Caye is one. So wit these three proposed it would be four. That is not sustainable. Our resources, natural resources cannot afford so many visitors and that number of ships. We certainly cannot afford to have these huge mega cruise ships that are currently under construction. So I think that having a new administration coming onboard, I think all of these consultations should be placed on pause. We need to see what is going to be the direction of the blue economy, certainly our marine natural resources, cruise tourism and all of these are related, so we need to know what’s going to be the blue economy strategy for Belize and see where the cruise ports fall into.”
In a response to Oceans V.P. Janelle Chanona, late this evening Prime Minster John Briceño has given assurances that no project has been approved until it has been brought before the cabinet for discussion. P.M. Briceño says “Rest assured that our government will always place the protection of the environment first and foremost.”