What is the cruise tourism future of Belize? And out of three possible ports with berthing facilities for the mega cruise ships, which will get government's approval?
Tonight, the picture is more unclear than ever - and that's due in no small part to the apparent vacillations of the Briceno administration.
When the PUP was elected, the expectation was that it would be the Ashcroft Alliance's Waterloo development that got the nod because of Lord Ashcroft's support for the PUP.
But, then this letter emerged from 2017, showing that the then leader of the opposition John Briceno had pledged full support for the Feinstein Group's Port Coral - which they also voted for in the House.
And, now there's another signal coming out of Belmopan - this one from the Department of Environment. This letter - which started circulating this weekend - caused whiplash in many circles. It's a letter from the Department of the environment and it gives the green light to the Port of Magical Belize. The letter is dated Friday and it is signed by the chief environmental Officer Martin Allegria. We could not reach the Minister for comment.
So, there's one Cruise Port being built at Stake Bank - that's Port Coral; another now approved to be built at Port Magic - which is at the mouth of the Sibun River - and a third on deck at the Port of Belize in Port Loyola.
Each has profound environmental implications and impacts and this evening OCEANA said, basically, "what the heck is going on!?"
A release says, quote, "Despite public and repeated calls for the Government of Belize to review the cumulative impact of the multiple cruise port projects proposed for the Belize District, over the weekend the nation became aware that yet another cruise port has been approvedâ€¦.As of todayâ€¦there has been no official press release from the Government of Belize with any further details, despite the significant public concern that has been generated by this projectâ€¦.the proposed scale of dredging from even one project is significant cause for concern. Oceana Vice-President, Janelle Chanona is quoted as saying, "To do less than safeguard the very ecosystems and biodiversity that cruise visitors want to enjoy would be shortsighted and in the end, economically detrimental to all Belizeans."
We could not reach Minister of the Environment Orlando Habet for comment today - but we did speak to him on Thursday before we saw the letter. He spoke in very general terms about the NEAC process.
Orlando Habet, Minister of the Environment "There are also further requirements even if NEAC approves a project based on what was assessed and the EIA in terms of the environmental impact, all of them will have some impact we have to decide if it is more than the pros vs. cons but there are also requirements. The projects will have to show tenureship of the land that they're going to be using, they have to have a mining license, they have to have a Port license so all those are separate and apart from what NEAC does."
"You have to recall that what our Ministry does is they do environmental assessment through NEAC and then somewhat of the social side, then there is another evaluation which is done by, for in terms of the economic and financial side of things, the project, and so a finality has to go through a parliamentary session. So, Stake Bank as I say already on the way, and the other two have done their part with the site visit and also the consultation."
Cherisse Halsall: "But Sir there was supposed to be a four-month period to develop a national port policy to present to Cabinet, what's the update on that, how's that going?"
Orlando Habet, Minister of the Environment "That is underway we also have several ministries that are involved, and have already started to meet, we formed a small co-group that involves the Ministry of Sustainable development, The Ministry Of Tourism, Ministry of the Blue economy also."
And while Minister Habet played it very soft and easy - the DOE letter and NEAC decision has significant implications - both within government and within the conservation community. We'll keep following it.
OCEANA Concerned About Environmental Clearance Given for Port of Magical Belize
Late this evening, OCEANA Belize issued a release saying that G.O.B.’s dismissal of the cumulative impact of multiple cruise port proposals is short-sighted. The release comes on the heels of an environmental clearance granted to Portico Enterprise Limited for the construction and operation of Port of Magical Belize, a cruise ship port and day resort six kilometres south of the Sibun River. The approval letter was signed and stamped by Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria and sent to Portico proprietor David Gegg last Friday, April ninth. OCEANA Belize says that G.O.B. has not issued any official release despite significant public concern around this project. Vice President Janelle Chanona says that Belizeans must maintain awareness and demand meaningful engagement on development proposals to support informed decision making.
Despite public and repeated calls for the Government of Belize to review the cumulative impact of the multiple cruise port projects proposed for the Belize District, over the weekend the nation became aware that yet another cruise port has been approved. The letter, which has been widely circulated via social media, is dated April 9th, 2021 and is addressed to the Portico Enterprise Ltd. (Port of Magical Belize). Signed by Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria, the letter informs that Environmental Clearance has been granted for the construction and operation of Port of Magical Belize, a cruise ship port and day resort development to be located approximately three miles south of the mouth of the Sibun River in the Belize District. As of today, Monday, April 12th 2021, there has been no official press release from the Government of Belize with any further details, despite the significant public concern that has been generated by this project.
As scientists continue to highlight, the area off the coast of the Belize District is a high retention zone, so the proposed scale of dredging from even one project is significant cause for concern. Additionally, the proposed mangrove clearing along the coast comes at a time when the importance of mangroves, especially in fighting climate change, is being promoted for increased protections. Oceana therefore repeats its call to the Belizean people to maintain awareness and demand meaningful engagement on development proposals to support informed decision making.
"Taking the cautious approach will ensure that we are able to weigh the costs and benefits of our decisions," stated Oceana Vice-President, Janelle Chanona. "To do less than safeguard the very ecosystems and biodiversity that cruise visitors want to enjoy would be shortsighted and in the end, economically detrimental to all Belizeans."
The Covid-19 global pandemic has given Belize the opportunity to reset and strengthen its tourism product. Belize has already signaled national commitment to the principles of sustainablilty. Together, we can ensure the definition and implementation of that commitment results in the approvals of projects that put the environment first so that development, and economic benefits, lasts.
For more information on this cruise port, click here, here, and here.
Re: Port of Magical Belize Gets Environmental Clearance
#549482 04/14/2104:21 AM04/14/2104:21 AM
Jamal Says Port of Magical Belize Not Magical For Manatee
And while Public officers take a stand against diminished earnings, marine creatures such as manatees are unable to speak for themselves when it comes to the major coastal developments that are threatening the delicate balance of their way of life.
But that's where the Manatee man comes in, and today Jamal Galvez gave us his response to the environmental clearance that NEAC has given to Portico Enterprises's Limited's Port of Magical Belize.
Galvez says that the proposed Peninsula set to be built 6km south of the mouth of the Sibun River will have major impacts on fish and marine megafauna, it will also prove a major obstacle to a major manatee migration route. Here's more.
Jamal Galvez, Manatee Man "We've stated our opinion numerous times to the developer and to the relevant authority NEAC, and the department of the environment using data to substantiate our claims, that it will impact manatees, but not just manatees, marine mega faunas, and fishes and other species that are frequent in the area, particularly this size of development. It's not a small construction It's a massive development and it includes the construction of a peninsula that will certainly disrupt water flow and the natural currents, block the passage of species such as manatees. We know that Manatees traverse along the coast."
"And we know that they use these areas along the coast, these shallow water areas. It's unknown what a manatee would do should they stumble upon this peninsula in the near future considering they've approved it. We have to really take into consideration, where and what we're doing because I thought that this pandemic would have thought us something but it seems to have taught us nothing in the sense that we lost basically everything now we are left with our environment and we're going to risk that now. I'm of the firm belief that if an ecosystem collapses an economy will die and that's not a fancy quote it's a factual statement and we need to reassess and really evaluate- the purpose of these organizations that are approving these things and ensuring that they are doing what they're there to do because the department of the environment and all these agencies are there to safeguard Belize's environment which means that the environment comes first, develop comes later and we're not against development but we want it to be done in the most sustainable manner."
Cherisse Halsall: "So what strikes me is, in that in the first paragraph of that letter it says that the project has received environmental clearance, what are your thoughts when you read that?"
Jamal Galvez, Manatee Man "It really troubles me to think that the work of organizations like ours that have been putting years of effort into collecting data, to try and study these species, to try and safeguard Belize's most critical ecosystems not with the support of any government funding of that sort but by writing grants proposals, having local fundraisers. So we're investing all of this into trying to protect these ecosystems but yet I feel that it didn't get the consideration that was give that was needed in regards to such a large development."
Cherisse Halsall: "So we know that Mr. Gegg's project as well as the other two that are on the table, they are all coastal developments that will all cause problems. Talk to us about if one or two of these are approved just more cruise ship traffic coming into our waters, what does that do?"
Jamal Galvez, Manatee Man "As it is we've been struggling to try and get a hold of manatee deaths as a result of cruise tourism. We've seen Manatee deaths increase rapidly - I'm writing a paper right now that we compare tourism visits to Belize along with manatee deaths, and we see that they go hand in hand, so the tourism goes up so the Manatee death rate goes up. As we've seen during Covid-19 tourism went down and so the Manatee deaths simply nose-dived, that shows that there's a direct correlation between the two. Currently, there's just one cruise calling from the FSTV center and if your looking at the amount of Manatees that are dying right now with just that, take into consideration some other two or maybe even three facility it means that we're literally trying to push this animal to the brink of extinction."
"We have a lot of policies and a lot of regulations but if we're not gonna follow them then there is no sense in having them."
OCEANA has also cautioned government's courting of multiple Port developers, saying, quote, "True environmental costs must be weighed against any potential benefits to safeguard Belize's economic backbone, its natural resources."
Chief Environmental Officer Speaks Out on Port of Magical Clearance
Over the weekend, the environmental clearance letter to Portico Enterprise Limited was leaked and circulated online. Signed and stamped by Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria on April ninth, the letter gives approval for the construction and operation of Port of Magical Belize, a cruise ship port and day resort six kilometres south of the Sibun River. In a one-on-one interview with News Five today, Alegria says that the process for approval was long as there were serious concerns from the National Environmental Assessment Committee about the significant dumping of dredge spoils in the sea. The risks associated had to be addressed in supplemental documents for the clearance to be given.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, D.O.E.
“It was February they submitted a proposal, a concept. By the ending of February an E.I.A. was requested of them and in March/April, we developed the terms of reference for the E.I.A. and since then, March/April of 2019, they started developing the document via their E.I.A. preparers, as we call them – locals and foreigners. It wasn’t until January 2020, they presented the complete E.I.A. Again, they usually would present to us a first draft and we go through it and see if it complies with the terms of reference for completeness, etc and then we go back and forth until we are satisfied that the E.I.A. report is enough to be sent to the NEAC. It was the ending of June that the NEAC decided to meet virtually and review the E.I.A. At that meeting of NEAC, additional info was requested and then supplemental info was presented, addressing key issues of concern. And then in August, ending of August or thereabouts, the NEAC revisited the E.I.A. and supplemental info. That was in August and then in October, the NEAC met once more which was the third time to consider all the information gathered from the E.I.A originally to the supplemental info. And then in October, the NEAC decided to ask for more information, more details. The membership met on February second and at that meeting, which was the fourth NEAC meeting that is when the decision was made to approve the E.I.A. report with the supplemental info based on certain conditions that the NEAC either clarified, imposed or negotiated with the developer/investor.”
Conservationists Concerns Did Not Fall on Deaf Ears
In the wake of the approval to Port of Magical Belize, OCEANA Belize have gone on record to say there must be meaningful engagement on all development proposals to support informed decision making. The conservation group claims the government is not looking at the larger picture in terms of the cumulative impact of multiple cruise ports in Belizean waters. We asked Alegria if NEAC has taken this into consideration. Of note is that a number of conservation representatives sit on the National Environmental Assessment Committee.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, D.O.E.
“That was one of the major issues of concern and discussion with two projects that are being proposed – the whole issue of dredging and the dredge spoil disposal and containment thereof. In this specific case that issue was discussed in terms of methodologies to be used, precautionary measures to protect the environment and also the disposal sites where they are going to dispose the material. In this specific case, they had two sites – one on mainland which is the spoil that might not be usable, usually the top part of it which is all silt. Those are not usable for farm ground or land reclamation or land creation. And those that are more solid and rocks and so on are used. And so those two issues were addressed and again that was where a lot of the discussions, negotiations, back and forth. The role and responsibility of the D.O.E. and the NEAC is in relation to the potential negative environmental impacts and address those. The E.I.A. process as we call it, as people know it, is a project by project basis methodology where yes, over the past decade or so, the whole issue of potential cumulative impacts need to be addressed or looked at and we do take those issues into consideration in terms of if there is certain amounts of development occurring within a geographical area. And those issues are taken into consideration from the environmental perspective, not the economic or socio or political.”
Last Friday, we showed you what David Gegg, the Founding Director of Portico Enterprises Limited, had to say about all the work his company had to do to get the environmental clearance to move ahead with the mega cruise project known as the Port of Magical Belize.
That's the cruise terminal that his company proposes to build some 6 kilometers south of the Sibun River, in the Belize District. Well, the United Democratic Party is disputing Gegg's sequence of events. They say that he did not give accurate details on how the interactions went between his company and the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC).
In a late evening press release, the UDP said that the Department of Environment did not legally commit to giving environmental clearance to Portico Enterprises in August 2020. That's back when the Barrow Administration's final term in office was coming to a close, and the UDP says that there was no legally convened meeting in that month. The party thinks that a project of this magnitude should never be rushed through the environmental screening process without adequate public consultation. And, the UDP thinks that if they held public consultations on this project last year during the pandemic, the process would have fallen short of adequately addressing public concerns.
From the perspective of the UDP, there were important concerns which the NEAC had back when it was constituted under the Barrow Government.
The UDP says, quote, "At the last, legally constituted meeting of the NEAC under the previous UDP administration, held in October 2020, it was decided to present the developer with existing environmental concerns regarding the project and to withhold project approval. Important Environmental concerns that existed and needed to be addressed were:
1. The EIA had not sufficiently treated the threat posed by the construction of the peninsula on the feeding and migratory grounds of manatees.
2. The EIA had not demonstrated how the project design took into account mitigation measures to address such impacts. What can the project do differently to lessen the impact on manatees? This remained unclear.
3. The impact on the retention zone around the mouth of the Sibun from the dredging that would be needed to construct the artificial peninsula is of great concern. This may lead to beach and coastal erosion later on, either nearby or further away.
4. The creation of an artificial peninsula is unnecessary. Who would own the land? What permissions have been received?
5. The dissection of important mangrove habitats by the access road was of great concern. More importantly, the disruption of surface flow by the presence of the filled road could lead to vegetative dieback or alteration of the flood retention regime in the area.
6. Overall, the economic feasibility of having a port just a few miles from Stake Bank, and the cumulative environmental impacts on the immediate vicinity of these ports, and on our fragile reef systems, have not been assessed.
It is also important to underscore the significance of not granting environmental clearance to this, or any other port project, without having a clearly defined multi-port strategy." End quote.
And for these reasons, the UDP thinks that the Briceno Government's decision to grant environmental clearance to the Port of Magical Belize is a big mistake.
The Party says, quote, "This project, from all indications, is an environmental disaster and therefore, it is unfortunate and regrettable that the People's United Party government has prematurely approved the ECP amidst serious environmental concerns and without any clear multi-port strategy." End quote.
So, what does David Gegg think about negative views like these about his company's proposed development? We asked him to discuss some of the environmental concerns, and here's how that conversation went last Friday:
We also asked Gegg to discuss the possible impact on the local manatee population. A week ago, Jamal Galvez, the well-known manatee conservationist, criticized the approval of the project's environmental clearance. He told us that in his opinion, the proposed peninsula will have major impacts on fish and marine megafauna and that it could become an obstacle to a major manatee migration route.
Here's how Gegg responded to those views:
Tomorrow, we'll show you what Gegg had to say about the Feinstein Group's Port Coral, and the proposed Waterloo Project at the Port of Belize.
Last night, we showed you what David Gegg, the founding director of Portico Enterprises Limited, had to say about the possible environmental impacts that his proposed Port of Magical Belize can have on the location where he and his partners want to build it.
As you probably know by now, the Port of Magical Belize is mega cruise development proposed by Gegg and his local and international business partners that is currently estimated at 224 million US dollars.
But, to make this port a reality, Portico Enterprises says that they would have to conduct extensive dredging and create an artificial peninsula at their facility, which is planned to be built some 6 kilometers south of the Sibun River in the Belize District.
Yesterday, the Opposition United Democratic Party called the project "an environmental disaster", and noted that for several reasons, the environmental concerns caused them to refuse to grant environmental clearance to the developer for this project. They have criticized the Briceno administration for "prematurely" approving Magical Belize's Environmental Compliance Plan, which they think should be rescinded.
But developer David Gegg thinks that Port of Magical Belize can actually boost the economic performance of the tourism industry.
Here's how he explained the benefits to us in our interview last week:
David Gegg - Founding Director, Portico Enterprises Limited "I think it will make it possible for the larger ships of today, and certainly the ones of tomorrow, to be able to come to Belize, which they will not now do because the new ships, the bigger ships, are 6,500 passengers. They have said to us that there is no way they will consider attempting to tender a ship of that size because you simply can't get that many people off in the course of the day. So, we will be able to accommodate the needs of the industry, as the industry evolves from where it was 25 years ago when it first came to Belize, to where it is now, and where there will probably be 10-15 years from now. And we think we'll be able to grow the traffic into Belize significantly."
Reporter "Are you referring to the shift to oasis class vessels, sir?"
David Gegg "It's not just oasis, you know. Oasis is the Royal Caribbean class of large ships. Carnival has its own class, I think it's called the XL class, and many of their brands, not just the Carnival brand, are using that model of ship. MSC has gone to a very large ship as well that's called 'World Class', and you have many other cruise lines that seem to be heading in that direction. And, you know, whether its the new ships of today 6,500 people, or the older ones of 10 years ago that has 2,000-3,000 people, they much prefer the ability to dock at a port, instead of tendering people ashore."
"This model, this location, is designed to accommodate the existing stakeholders. The road that will access the site will be about 10 miles from Belize City. It's 6.5 miles from the George Price Highway, at about the mile 6 or 5 juncture. We put the road there so that the existing stakeholders would have fast and easy access to the site, to be able to go there just as they presently go to Fort Street Tourism Village. It's geared for the present Belize Stakeholders."
We also asked him about the rival cruise ports that also want to shape the country's cruise tourism future. The Feinstein Group's Port Coral Project has also gotten environmental clearance, and they've already progressed to the construction phase. Then, there's the proposal from the Ashcroft Alliance's Waterloo company at the Port of Belize, which is still being reviewed by the environmental authorities.
Predictably, pitchman Gegg told us that his project has one major advantage over those other 2 projects:
David Gegg - Founding Director, Portico Enterprises Limited "There are 3 things that make our project much more viable than the other 2. It's location, location, and location."
Reporter "Care to elaborate?"
David Gegg "I don't need to. I mean, you know, navigation to our facility is safer, easier, is shorter. We don't have to tender people ashore because the buses will be parked very near to where the ships dock. Passengers will be able to walk from the ship directly onto the bus and whisked off to a Mayan site, and some other attraction. It's a pristine setting that safe, secure, and scenic, and in this day and age, the cruise lines are looking for settings that are safe, secure, and scenic and not ones that are flanked by commercial trimmings, whether it's the tank farm of the Puma people, thousands of containers in the Port compound, or the regrettably, the sewer treatment lagoon of Belize City. You go to Port of Belize, that's what you'll see from the top deck of the ship, and I think it would be a travesty of economic opportunity if cruise ships were to go there. I think it would be very sad for Belize if that were to happen."
"I wish the others well. I don't see Stakebank as competition. I wish Mr. Feinstein well. I think it would be a travesty, as I've said if cruise ships were to be allowed to go into the setting that is the Port of Belize. But, if that's what it is, then that's what it's to be. Undoubtedly, we have the best location."
If you would like to read about this project in granular detail, you can find all the environmental studies on it on the Department of the Environment website.