Environmental clearance denied to San Mateo

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 28            July 13, 2000

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Through numerous inquiries to several government agencies, it has been learned that the future of the San Mateo subdivision has not yet been decided. Scheduled for July 21st is a meeting of the Land Utilization Authority (LUA) and it is expected that the plans will be discussed at that time.

    Through much investigation, it was learned that the Department of Environment (DOE) had inspected the Buena Vista/Punta Arena Area on the 13th April of this year. On 8th May a letter containing the conclusions of the DOE (based on their visit) was submitted to the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys Department and allegedly carbon copied to Coastal Zone Management Authority/Institute (CZMA/I) and the San Pedro Town Council. 

    In that communication it was stated that based on the site visit conducted, the DOE, at that time, could not grant Environmental Clearance to the San Pedro Town Council for the proposed development of 500 acres of land into 308 parcels. The DOE further deduced the site seemed unsuitable for residential development. There were other areas not adequately addressed that mirrored the concerns found by the Ministry of Natural Resource's team that subsequently visited the site in June. Lack of sewage, solid waste management and water supply systems; possibility of improper land fill; the threat of erosion, sedimentation and contamination from clearing mangroves, reclamation and canal construction; and frequent flooding because the area is a mangrove wetland were a few of the concerns. It was DOE's opinion that an environmental screening be done by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC). Additionally, the DOE requested a detailed project proposal be drawn up that would address all proposed activities for the site and the concerns stated in their correspondence. As of yet, there has been no response to their request.

    It is hoped this DOE document, as well as reports from the inspection done by CZMA/I, Fisheries, Lands and Forestry Department personnel, will be included in the next land utilization meeting and that an intelligent decision will be made on the proposed subdivision. The San Mateo proposal has been the subject of much controversy as people need housing on the island. It is ironic to note that a Conceptual Master Plan, prepared as recently as 1993, is displayed on the wall of the Town Foreman's office (as of last week). This map, prepared by Community Design Institute with environmental consulting done by the Belize Center of Environmental Studies, features the proposed site of the San Mateo subdivision area as a "Conservation Area" yet denotes the high, dry, solid land to the west, (that many feel would be better utilized), as the "New San Pedro Town". It is also felt by numerous people that the development of this area will destroy the environment, thus destroying its eco-tourism benefits. Other concerns arise from the fact that it is a critical feeding and nesting ground for countless reptile and birds as well as a spawning area for a variety of marine life. Destroying this area would also be contrary to the International Ramsar Convention in which Belize is a partner.

    It is now left for the proper authorities to decide what is right and what is wrong. For more information on the subject, kindly contact the Ministry of Natural Resources or write to the minister at [email protected]

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