And switching gears from a fire that flattened a foam factory to a giant tourist playground in the middle of the sea that promises to blow up cruise tourism like never before. There are three proposed cruise projects in the Belize District clamoring for the top spot as the Port of choice for the major cruise lines. All of them praise to have berthing facilities - meaning that cruise ships can pull up right alongside the pier and offload their tourists.
But, Port Coral has a distinct advantage and that's because - apart from being on an island - the mega project is just a year away from completion.
And that's because it has been in the making for over a decade - and it got environmental clearance probably as far back as 2007. And that's why developer Mike Feinstein hasn't been wasting time; he figures that if he's the first to build a berthing facility - the cruise lines - which are desperate for one, will jump unto his project.
It's a wild plan - because he still doesn't have a signed deal with any of the major cruise lines - but, when we visited the island today we found out why this project is darn-near UNDENIABLE and may be too big to fail. Courtney Menzies has the story:
A glance at Stake Bank as is would show you little else other than sand and cement on the 25 acre island.
But Port Coral is shaping up as one of the greatest construction ventures Belize has ever seen, transforming a once desolate mangrove island 7 miles off the mainland - into the ultimate playground for cruise tourists.
And while the numerous restaurant and bar areas, retail rental space, ziplining facilities, and what may be the largest pool in Belize - with a salt water aquarium that has a plane inside built into that pool - is a lot to brag about, and a whole lot going on - indeed the scale is staggering - and, the developers say, not damaging the enviornment:
Caleb Wade, Project Manager, Port Coral "We have roughly anywhere between 180 to over 310, 320 people working out here every day. Countless pieces of heavy equipment, we have on site over 8 cranes working different projects, quite a number of pieces of heavy equipment, we have the biggest dredge in Belize and we're doing it in an environmentally friendly manner, making sure we don't waste anything at all."
"As we dredge, all the material that we dredge is recovered and used on land in terms of land fill so we don't waste anything at all."
"So far we've dredged over 400-500 thousand cubic yards of material, all that's on the island in terms of landfill, we have a unique dewatering system where we recover heavy material, and we recover sand and light material as well."
And those dredge spoils were used to raise the island ten feet above sea level - making it more resilient to climate change and hurricanes.
And those enormous cement structures with thick columns are built to withstand a natural disaster, so as to lessen the downtime needed for repairs.
That's a lot of cement - and a lot of equipment to transport to the island.
Caleb Wade, Project Manager, Port Coral "Cement is more like the backbone of what we're doing here, everything is concrete, no lot of Styrofoam and things, everything is concrete, literally thousands of cement piles, we get a number of loads of cement on a weekly basis and we have our entire batch plant and mixing system out here from medina's that is permanently on the island and that we use every week."
"We have our staging area at mile 5 and from there we load up barges on a daily basis, 6 sometimes 7 days a week, multiple times a day to bring out every single drop of water that use in cement, you'd find it strange we're surrounded by water but we can't use it because of the salinity so every single grain of sand, concrete mix, plaster, structural cement because we use two different kind of cement, structural and we use regular cement for plastering, every single thing is brought in by barge to the island on a daily basis."
Including cement blocks sourced from the prison, made by the inmates. While their operation is slower than what would be needed for a project of this scale, Wade said they've been trying to accommodate the prisoners.
But that's not the only way they've been trying to give back to the community.
Caleb Wade, Project Manager, Port Coral "Providing employment to all levels of Belizeans especially in the city, in the areas where people struggle to find work and we've partnered with a number of different organizations to do just that and it has turn ed out well for us, we have a great team, a good mix of guys, and as you can see from the speed of what we're building a group of hardworking people who are committed to get it done."
Everything on the island so far was built in a little over a year working through the pandemic.
But they've still got a long way to go, and they're aiming to finish the on-land construction mid-2022. What will take more time though is perhaps the most important part of Port Coral - not the three beaches it proposes - but the berthing facilities.
Caleb Wade, Project Manager, Port Coral "We have two piers under construction, we've started the first one, they're going to be able to handle two ships each at a time where the backbone of those are basically 36 inch in diameter steel piles that are hammered into the ground with 200 ton hammers, hammered down until they reach refusal and then we put concrete material on top of that and that makes it structural, can handle the weight of the ship."
"The draft, we're looking at a little over 11 meters, between 11 and 12 meters is what we're looking at."
Jules Vasquez: "So we're talking about 35 to 40 feet."
Caleb Wade, Project Manager, Port Coral "35 to 40 feet, so 37 is the lowest we'll go, shooting for 40."
Jules Vasquez: "And that can accommodate the largest class of cruise ships tat are currently out there."
Caleb Wade, Project Manager, Port Coral "Correct, what a lot of people don't realise the ships aren't getting a deeper draft, they're getting wider, they're getting longer, they're getting taller but the draft isn't really increasing at the same ratio."
So these islands are a goldmine for tourism stakeholders, but renting a space won't be cheap. However, Wade added that there will be opportunities for the small tour operators to cash in.
Jules Vasquez: "Will there be inclusion for the small, local operators to get a piece of this pie."
Caleb Wade, Project Manager, Port Coral "Most definitely, I can't speak on the details of that as that's not my forte, I'm more in charge of building it but most definitely there will be inclusion."
Stake Bank Island is being built to accommodate 15,000 people at one time - a grand endeavor and a huge undertaking but one that currently does not have an in - writing commercial arrangement with any of the major cruise lines. The plan seems to be - if you build it - they will come. At 82 million US dollars, hopefully it's more than that field of dreams.
Jules Vasquez has been following that project from 2007 - and tomorrow he will offer some historical perspective.
OCEANA Concerned About Causeway
And as the construction at Port Coral progresses, the concerns of environmental NGO's grows. The coalition of NGO's which includes Oceana Belize, Southern Environmental Association, Belize Audubon Society, Fragments of Hope, and more wrote a joint letter to the Minister of Sustainable Development, Orlando Habet. In this letter dated September 22nd, they detailed their concerns for the port's proposed causeways and requested copies of the Environmental Compliance Plan. They also asked for additional public consultation on this aspect of the project.
Some of the NGO's wrote a separate letter to the Chief Environmental Officer requesting other documents, such as those pertaining to meetings held by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee and those concerning the Environmental Impact Assessment.
The executive direction of SEA told us today via Zoom that they feel they should be a part of this project, considering its magnitude. They also believe they should be involved in consultations and discussions to properly monitor the environmental impacts.
Arreini Palacio Morgan added that they weren't even aware that the causeway had been approved until they saw a billboard and when they checked the department's website, they could not find the ECP, which is public information.
Arreine Morgan Palacio, Executive Director, SEA "Our request really is for us to take a look at the environmental compliance plan or ECPs. ECPs are public documents that the department of the environment would normally publish on their website. When we saw the billboard when that became a part or our attention we did do a little bit of research into where the ECP is by taking a look at the website, noted that it wasn't there, so we simply requested of the CEO for sustainable development as well as the minister and the department of the environment fpr us to take a look at the environmental compliance plan to assure us of exactly what the standards are as it regards to the building of the causeway, also for us to be aware of what monitoring will be going on in terms of the building of such. Subsequent to the submission of the letter to the minister and the CEO, they were gracious to give some of our members from the coalition of NGOs, they were able to have us meet with them and at that meeting they did state that there is an environmental compliance plan for the causeway that apparently was signed in 2019, so we are really looking forward to taking a look at that ECP and see how best we can become involved in any monitoring, if necessary."
"The more contentious of the project was the causeway. The potential negative impacts possible damages to our sensitive marine environment were some of the things that came out during the public consultation. Definitely is that something we want in Belize City is pleasing to the eye, how will that affect our environment? How we will be able to monitor this? how will we be able to mitigate any kind of damages that may potentially take place? these are some of the concerns that we had brought up at that time and those concerns remain. Even if there was studies that were done back then, a lot had change in the years, a lot has changed in 10, 12, 3 years - environmentally, economically, even in our health, so clearly we would appreciate to be involved, be consulted on in regards to how best we can put our input into a successful project in Belize if that were the case."
And we also asked Morgan about the frustration that comes with monitoring three proposed ports.
Arreine Morgan Palacio, Executive Director, SEA "We are at this moment monitoring the development of the projects. There are different stages right now for example the Stakebank is already in development phase. We have Port Magical which is going navigating the EIA process and moving on to development and then we have the other port that is being proposed that is navigating its way through the department of the environment and the EIA process. There is a lot going on in deed and it's a lot for us to be able to take in, but we are trying to be as vigilant as we possibly can ensuring that we are involved, ensuring that we are informed of the projects, so that we can have some sort of input into them. As you would note within a very small square mileage there are 3 ports that are being proposed. We really want to know the effect to the environment, not much per project. There must be an effect to the environment, so these are the things that we are taking a look at as we navigate our position for these projects."
The coalition is hoping to get a response within the next week.
Yesterday we took you to Stake Bank island where an enormous cruise port is currently under construction. Port Coral promises to be a completely new experience for tourists who arrive on cruise ships. And the first part of that is - when they arrive- they won't have to get on a tender - they will pull right up to a dock, get off the cruise ship and enter a fully realised tourism island with all the bells and whistles.
Work on the massive 100 plus million Belize dollar project has been going at a record pace since its groundbreaking over two years ago, with hundreds of workers on site, and dozens of cranes, cement trucks, bulldozers and all kinds of heavy equipment at the island off the coast of Belize City.
But while much has been done in a short span towards the goal of opening next year, truth is this project has been years in the making, and we've been reporting on it for well over a decade. And during that time, just like now, there's been plenty of controversy surrounding it. Courtney Menzies took a look back at Port Coral's history, and has this story.
If you want to see what the Minister with responsibility for the environment has to say about the approval for the causeways - tune into Uncut tonight when he will be Jules Vasquez's guest.
The Feinstein Group's Port Coral mega - project has been much in the
news this week. We visited the development on Stake Bank Island on
Tuesday - and that's the same day the Coalition of Environmental NGO's
released two letters they've written to the Department of the
Environment and the Minister. Using a Freedom of Information request,
they're demanding the release of all documents, quote, "concerning any
Environmental Clearance Process approvals related to the Ocean View
Grand, and/or Stake Bank, and/or Feinstein Group, and or any other
party that proposes construction of causeways between Belize City and
They sent in that letter to the Department of the Environment 15 days
ago and have gotten a response for what is called "The Stake Bank File"
- but nothing so far on the proposed causeway.
The stir over that 5 mile structure probably began on September 9th
when the Feinstein group announced one month ago, quote, "Port Coral,
located four miles east of Belize City at Stake Bank Islandâ€¦will be
connected to Belize City via the causeway that passes through North
Drowned Caye to Belize City."
And it allegedly has an Environmental Compliance Plan - which Minister
of Sustainable Development, Climate Change & Disaster Risk
Management said last night on Uncut - exists - but it's just that no
one can find it:
Hon. Orlando Habet - Minister of Sustainable Development
"They were also concerned because they hadn't seen the environmental
compliance plan for the cause ways, so apparently something happened in
the ministry that the 2019 ECP was not put out in public domain so they
could have access to it. I was informed they had prior access to the
documents where they went into the library and made their research and
that is why they said they didn't see those because they weren't privy
to those but my understanding is that there is a ECP; personally, I
haven't seen it either, I've seen the 2007, 2013 and 2017 ECPs."
Jules Vasquez "So, you haven't seen it but you know that it exists based on?"
Hon. Orlando Habet
"Based on conversation with members of the department."
"Are they able to find it? Is anyone able to put their hands on it?"
Hon. Orlando Habet
"I believe so, I was trying to get a hold of it before I came here but
I couldn't. My understanding is that during the previous administration
there were ups and downs, remember there were like 3 or 4 ministers
that were changed, Mr. Vega then Ms. Alamilla, then after was Mr.
Hulse, then to Mr. Figueroa. What we got to understand was that there
was a lot of push from all sides between who supported it and who
didn't, who support one company and didn't support the other and there
was a change in the legislation granting the CEO of the ministry then
the powers of authority to the N.E.A.C but the law legislates that it
is the chief environmental officer, so there was contentions and so
things were happening and I guess in those deliberations that they had
and the contentions that they had, one must have granted the ECP, maybe
the other one didn't know, I'm not sure we don't know exactly what
happened during those meetings."
We checked back whit the Minister today, asking if that mysterious ECP
had surfaced and he said, quote, "Not as yet but requested that the DOE
locate it Urgently."
UDP Says It Never Approved Causeway Proposal
And today the UDP issued a release to say that's just plain
The Party says it is, quote, "It is shocking that the Minister of
Sustainable Development has confirmed the existence of this 2019 ECP
but yet has admitted to not seeing it. It was clear in a letter dated
August 16th, 2017, to the Developers of Stake Bank that the project
shall not include the development of the causeway. The ECP of 2017 did
NOT provide clearance for the construction of the causeway."
Today, the former chair of the UDP Investment Committee, Tracy Panton
spoke about that denial for the causeway project:
Hon. Tracy Panton - Former Chair, Cabinet Investment Subcommittee
"I was so flabbergasted by the interview last night and none of us can
recall any such decision being taken by the UDP administration. I feel
it was very irresponsible to make that assertion without seeing, as he
admitted he as not seen a copy of the actually signed ECP. I can tell
you Jules that I served as chair of the cabinet subcommittee on
investments that looked at that project and even at cabinet it was
agreed that would be no ECP for the stake bank cause way without robust
"The minister refers without proof to an ECP being granted. Would you
be very surprised if someone produces an ECP?"
Hon. Tracy Panton
"I would be absolutely surprised if an ECP existed that was signed by
any member of the former administration. I would surprised the
cabinet's minutes are clear, the cabinet's direction was clear, the
cabinet's decision was clear and I can tell you that my then colleague
was responsible for ministry of environment also was not supportive of
the cause way because of the environmental concern. The stake bank
project itself, the development on the caye itself was definitely
approved but the cause way."
"If someone produces an ECP, would you then say it's illegitimate?"
Hon. Tracy Panton
"I would definitely it's illegitimate because the cabinet discussions,
the cabinet decision, the cabinet clear direction in minutes following
that cabinet meeting is extremely clear that the UDP administration
would certainly not support the cause way component. There was some
discussion about linking stake bank and drowned caye, that's different
but the cause way from stake bank to Belize City. It was very clear
that could proceed without public consultation."
"Supposed there is a cause way as it is planned right now and you can
see it on the billboard from Belize City to north drowned caye then
from north drowned caye eventually to stake bank."
Hon. Tracy Panton
"That was never part of the project revision exercise that I was a part
"I want to be very specific because when I spoke to Mike Feinstein he
said indeed there is no cause way from stake bank to Belize City, the
cause way is a part of the north drowned caye project, which is 2.7
miles from north drowned caye to Belize City and then later on another
2 miles from north drowned to stake bank."
Hon. Tracy Panton
"It was never any consideration as far as I can recall of any cause way
that would link the stake bank project through any configuration with
The UDP release says, quote "We demand that any such document be made
available immediately and without hesitation to the Belizean public. If
in fact such a document exists, we demand its immediate revocation
since it was executed without following due processÃƒ¢Ã¢â€š¬¦"
And the coalition of environmental NGO's sent out a release this afternoon saying, quote, "On the October 6th, 2021 episode of "Uncut", Minister of Sustainable Development Orlando Habet, publicly admitted to not having seen the Environmental Compliance Plan for the causeways but asserted that approval was initially granted in 2013 and then regranted in 2019. However, a 2020 request for disclosure via the Freedom of Information Act did not include any documentation on a 2019 ECP approval In conferring with members of the 2019 National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC), none of them could recall any discussions regarding causeways that ECP should be immediately revoked and a new process of review initiated following Belize's legally established procedures that highlight the necessary step of conducting well-advertised and open public consultations." End quote.
UDP CLARIFIES ECP APPROVAL OF THE PROPOSED STAKE BANK CAUSEWAY COMPONENT
Belizeans are growing increasingly concerned about the possible development of three major Port Projects within a very small geographic area along the Belizean coast. The potential for serious and irreversible environmental impacts is real and we urge this Administration to value the Belizean environment as we question both the economic and environmental sustainability of these mega projects. We hereby state, for the record, that the only port -related project which received environmental clearance under the previous UDP Administration of 2015-2020 is reflected in the Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) of 2017 which limits development to only Stake Bank Caye itself consisting of 16.085 acres of land. It was clear in a letter dated August 16th, 2017, to the Developers of Stake Bank that the project shall not include the development of the causeway. The ECP of 2017 did NOT provide clearance for the construction of the causeway.
The United Democratic Party is seriously concerned about allegations made by the current Minister of Sustainable Development, Hon. Orlando Habet, suggesting that the two causeways associated with Stake Bank/Port Coral Cruise Project were granted environmental clearance in 2019. The UDP Cabinet had taken a firm position that any potential approval of these causeways would only be considered after the revision and update of the EIA which would include a robust round of public consultations on this specific component. This was also the position of the Cabinet Sub Committee of Investments which included the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry with responsibility for the Environment. If there exists a signed ECP of 2019 for the construction of these two causeways, it had neither the knowledge nor the input of the Ministry responsible for Environment and would have been executed against the recommendation of the Cabinet Sub Committee on Investment, the Ministry of Environment, and the clear directives of the then Cabinet.
It is shocking that the Minister of Sustainable Development has confirmed the existence of this 2019 ECP but yet has admitted to not seeing it. We demand that any such document be made available immediately and without hesitation to the Belizean public. If in fact such a document exists, we demand its immediate revocation since it was executed without following due process. Revision of any expired ECP, for such major projects with huge environmental risks, should entail a revision of the associated EIA and robust public consultations, a position that was held under the previous UDP Administration.
Belize is a very small country. We are blessed with abundant natural resources but we must always remain cognizant that these natural systems are fragile with potential for irreparable damage. Sustainable Development demands we protect these natural systems at any and all costs.
Re: Port Coral - A Major Work in Progress
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Conservation NGO’s Crystallize Contentions Over ECP
All of last week we reported on the Causeway controversy at Port Coral - and the adjoining North Drowned Caye.
On one side, the developer says he has an approved Environmental Compliance Plan, the Ministry of Sustainable Development agrees, but can't find it, while the environmentalists says - show me it!
Appearing this morning on Sunup on 7 to make clear the position of the Coalition of Environmental NGO's was Vice President of Oceana Janelle Chanona.
She told our hosts that she's yet to see an ECP for these causeways and can only hope that G.O.B. isn't deliberately withholding:
Janelle Chanona, Vice President, Oceana "The topic today is, are these causeways but this is really just one more case study in a system that needs to be overhauled, needs to be looked at, needs to be revamped because we keep coming back to these things and to use a word that you mentioned, we don't want to be constantly perceived as any kind of proposal to development, we want to be partners, we want to be collaborators in national development and we want to be at the table because once the toothpaste is out you can't get it, if you've ever been there you can't get it back in. It's really about us being all around the table discussing how these shared resources so that future generations of Belizeans can rely on them in the way we are now and talking about the brand of toothpaste, talking about the flavor of the toothpaste, talking about the color of the toothpaste, and making sure it's the right toothpaste for us. And it's really about bringing that conversation to the fore because one of the things that I am very concerned about this the precedence of all of this. The minute we start accepting or tolerating or allowing and it's a very slippery slope and we don't know what's at the bottom we could get into a whole and continue going. So it's really about looking very holistically at all these projects, all the smaller tourism development projects, the major projects, the new ones like the causeway and see how do we plan, because if we fail to plan we are planning to fail and that's just the cut of it. we really embrace the mantra of if we put the environment first, development last well into the future and we know there are these existential threats related to climate change, and if we don't take care of ourselves, I shudder whenever you see these news stories of these migrant caravans coming from South America, Central America heading for a better future. There are climate refugees already happening and we yes we are not major contributors at this point but we can get there it can always get worse. So, we have to take care of ourselves, we have to look a food security like what's happening in the fish market, we need to pay attention to what's happening with these developments and we need to be aware that our voice is as strong as that."
C.E.O. of P.B.L. Discusses “Near Shore” Location for Dredged Silt
We recently reported on the public consultation that was held by the developers of the Port of Belize Expansion Project. The Department of the Environment also participated. One of the main takeaways was that the developers have decided to abandon their initial plan to dump some seven million cubic meters of silt into the ocean after dredging. It was announced that the waste will now be dumped on property belonging to the port. This morning, C.E.O. at the Port of Belize further elaborated on the plan, noting the added benefit of this approach, during an appearance on Open Your Eyes.
Andrew Lane, C.E.O., Port of Belize Limited
“People have come out in the public and they have said that Waterloo wants to dump silt on the reef and of course that was never anybody’s attention. We understand the ecological significance of the reef, the second largest reef in the world, and the value that brings to Belize. Absolutely, we do not want to do anything to disturb that. Our original plan was to place the waste at sea, fifteen miles from the reef. That was not approved. What we are doing here, this is a significant program. We are removing seven million, not more than seven point five million cubic meters of material. We are removing it from an existing channel which has been dredged previously. It is virgin material. It has never been touched by mankind. Does it contain small traces of things which are harmful? Yes it does, but not to any degree of concentration that would make it, people call it toxic, it is not toxic. Would I advise you to eat it for your breakfast or lunch, probably not, because it is not going to be that tasty? What we are going to do is that three and a half million cubic meters will be used for building the new facility. The balance we are going to near shore it. So, that will be placed in the bay to the immediate west of the Port. Essentially it will be left one meter under the surface of the water. What this also does, it builds up more protection for storm surge on the west and southern side for Belize City.”
Port of Belize Has Three Cruise Lines Interested
As it relates to the competitiveness of the Port of Belize’s proposed cruise port, in comparison to the cruise ports currently being developed in Belize, C.E.O. Lane says Port of Belize has an advantage. That advantage is a letter of intent from the three largest cruise lines, according to C.E.O. Lane. Here is how he puts it.
Andrew Lane, C.E.O., Port of Belize Limited
“We have letters of intent from three of the largest cruise lines. They are pledging passenger numbers if we can build this facility. As we saw last week, and it was openly admitted by Stake Bank Enterprises, they don’t have these. And, they won’t have them either, because that is not what the industry requires. Port Magical also doesn’t seem to have the same support. Port Magical is a similar set up to the set up we are looking for. But, if you look at it from an environmental perspective, and yes their environmental case has been approved, but what we are doing is, we are redeveloping a brown field site and they are developing a green field site. A green field site means that nothing exists and you are building from scratch, where a brown field site means you have the nucleolus you need and you are just improving whatever exists. Logically speaking, a brown field site will always be more ecologically friendly than a green field development.”
DOE: Causeway Was Approved
Environmental clearance is one of the first steps that must be done for any proposed development in Belize. The National Environmental Appraisal Committee is responsible for giving that green light. This then allows for requisite permits, approvals and licenses to be issued. Today, Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria held a virtual press conference in wake of pushback from the environmental community over concerns about a causeway that was approved for the multimillion-dollar Stake Bank cruise port development just off the coast of Belize City. But as we found out from Alegria today, the Environmental Compliance Plan was approved years ago and remains effective.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer
“On the fifteenth, Mrs. Chandra Cansino takes up her position as C.E.O. I am certain that I speak for the staff in saying that we are very glad and happy that she is on board with us. And as well, I can say perhaps that even the wider community is embracing her coming on to the K.H.M.H. compound.”
Causeways Were Approved After Consultation
According to Alegria, a public consultation was held and taken into consideration for the causeway. He speaks to the concerns and what was agreed to.
“We refer to one as Stake Bank Project and the North Drowned Caye Project. Back in 2006, both projects were treated separately and so each one did an EIA. I think North Drowned Caye was called Ocean View Grand, the company and Stake Bank was called Stake Bank Enterprise. The Stake Bank EIA was done by Mister Garcia and the North Drowned Caye was done by the late Tom Brimshaw, I think. So there were public consultations for both of those. There were discussions for and against. And one of the issues that were always out there with those projects was the causeway or the causeways because each project had a causeway, each EIA had a causeway proposed. And so those discussions were held in 2006/2007 where the NEAC at the end of the day, when they reviewed all of the meaningful inputs from the general public from an environmental perspective, they were of the view that a causeway can be approved and permitted and hence in 2007, the ECP for North Drowned Caye include the causeway. The ECP for Stake Bank did not, but it’s not because NEAC did not approve it, it was because there were complications that the investor and the N.G.O. community had with the Swallows Caye so they needed to address that before anything could be officialised or approved. So that discussion between the investor and the Swallows Caye Management or Board of Directors, that took long and there were difference, I guess, that by the time the chief was ready to sign the ECP, it was too late to include it beucase things were not resolved or the precondition upon which NEAC had granted it the go-ahead – and that was to take Swallows Caye into consideration and work with them so that you have some kind of amicable solution. But the causeway itself was an issue that was discussed, debated, of course it was contention, but in the end the NEAC approved the clearance of those causeways.”
Details of Approved Causeway Shared by DOE
[b]Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria gave his professional advice on the causeway and spoke of what was agreed to in order for the ECP to be approved. He says that from an environmental mitigation perspective, he believes the potential negative impact of causeways was the same for both projects at North Drowned Caye and Stake Bank. Alegria goes into details of what was agreed to several years ago.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer
“What will be the impact of that causeway on the marine environment? So we said the first thing that needs to be done and is in the ECP is a geotechnical study of the route to make sure that now tomorrow it falls and then who then has to pick up the slack. We? The Government of Belize? So we said no, they have to do that. And once that is checked by Ministry of Works, who are the engineers and it is okay, then. The other issue of concern would be the height – navigation and height of the causeway. It was then discussed in the NEAC that the height of that cannot be less than ten feet so that others can pass through easily. So it was demanded from the designers that if we grant clearance, it will be eleven feet – based on information that was provided to us and other discussions we had. But there was this issue of not being able to traverse north to south, east to west. And so suggestions were made and accepted by the developer that somewhere in the middle of the causeway, there will be a portion that has to go high up in the air – thirty-five, I think it was forty feet at the end of the day that we demanded – because the navigational channels and liens cannot be disrupted. So eleven feet and forty feet were the two measurements that were used for the discussions of approving a causeway or not. Another one, the original design, if I recall the original didn’t have pedestrian for us to walk; it was more traffic. And so I think it was asked and it was accepted that a pedestrian section, a little section on one of the sides be put there for social purposes. For Belizeans to be able to go there, exercise, ride their bicycles or go fishing right off the pier.”
So, with this major dispute over the legitimacy of the Environmental Compliance Plan - how will the Cabinet proceed. Well, that largely depends on where the Prime Minister stands - and today he insisted that - despite their protestations - the past UDP government did give permission to build the causeway:
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister "Obviously we have to look at the records, and I am not seeing the records to show what really happened but what I do know for a fact is when they go the permission to do the causeway, Natural Resources, with the physical planning, they were charged them I think it's about $800,000 a year for the causeway but somebody went to speak to the officials at the Ministry of Natural Resources and that was reduced to $100,000. I say that to make the point that it was obvious the ministers knew that something was taking place. Now whether the minister of Environment knew, I have to take his word, but ministries knew that something was happening and that there is some sort of approval. What do we have to do, well, we have to look at it to see if the process was followed and if the process was not followed then obviously we have to do that, we have to ensure the process was followed because if we leave it as it is then I'm sure someone will take out a lawsuit."
"That just came on the news yesterday, I attempted to get a copy and I was told they couldn't find it, I got some information since I knew when we talk about a causeway I knew it had to go to == planning, I spoke with the CEO and that's how I got the information, they did pay the $100. So the ECP is a public document so I'm certain that the minister, Minister Habet will make that document public. Now as to the minutes, if the minutes are something that should be public then sure we have no problems in making it public."
First off, we still have not gotten that very public document, the Environmental Compliance Plan. Second, the minutes of any NEAC meeting are certainly not private business - or a matter of national security, so, clearly, they should be made public - especially for a government that committed in its manifesto to, quote, "Overhaul the NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL APPRAISAL COMMITTEE (NEAC) widen consultation, enhance transparency & streamline decision making." End quote.