Initial reports favor dredging policy reform

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 29            July 26, 2001

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Government policy on dredging may someday be amended due to the recent investigation by several government agencies into illegal dredging on Ambergris Caye. Preliminary reports indicate recommendations for consultation with San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) when permits are issued and that no further dredging be conducted on the eastern side of the island.

    Representatives from the Departments of Environment (DOE), Geology and Petroleum (GPD), and Lands and Survey, as well as Coastal Zone Management Authority/Institute (CZMA/I) were joined by members of SPTC, Ambergris Caye Planning Committee (ACPC) and non-governmental organizations to investigate illegal dredging activities. Only five sites were visited: the Habaneros, Mexico Rocks and Boca del Rio areas, the Gibson Property and the Buena Vista Subdivision. It could not be confirmed why two other major dredging sites, Boca Ciega and the Avalon Resort area, were not visited during this inspection. Preliminary reports are that, in all instances, property owners had permits to extract specified volumes of material from the seabed for the purpose of beach and/or road reclamation due to Hurricane Keith. In all cases, however, the conditions and terms of the permits were breached. In one case, for example, the volume of material extracted from the seabed had far exceeded the amount stipulated in the permit. In other instances, the dredged material was not used for the purpose as stated in the permit.

    Based on these findings, the following recommendations were made by representatives of the Department of Environment: 1) The SPTC should be consulted and be allowed to have a more active role in the approval process for the issuance of quarry permits. 2) Existing quarry permits in which the terms and conditions have been violated should be revoked. 3) Personnel from the GPD, as well as SPTC and other relevant departments should conduct site assessments prior to the granting of any further permits. In the event that such a team is unable to conduct an assessment, the GPD should consult with the town council for assistance. Monitoring should also be conducted during dredging activities to ensure compliance with the conditions and terms laid out in the quarry permits. 4) In keeping with the recommendations of the Proposed Master Plan for Ambergris Caye, no further dredging activities should be conducted on the eastern side of the island. Additionally, the proposed Marine Dredging Policy should be adopted by the permitting agencies. 5) Appropriate mitigation measures, such as the use of sediment curtains, should be made a mandatory requirement in all permits. In addition, adequate distances from the shoreline should be one of the conditions for the issuance of all permits.

    In an interview with representatives from Geology, it was learned that no final report has been compiled as yet. It was stated that legal counsel will be consulted regarding amendments to the existing laws and actions to be taken. "We want to improve the ways permits are issued," stated the GPD representative. Legal consult is needed before a decision is made regarding new policies. This report will then be submitted to the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Hon. Johnny Briceño for approval.

    Geology also investigated a report last week of dredging on the south end of the island. It was stated that dredging was allowed to continue in this particular case because the permit was issued a long time ago and the dredge was complying with the conditions stated on the permit. It was stated that no future permits will be issued until a decision can be made regarding the marine dredging policy.

    In related news, the Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Government Organizations Limited (BACONGO) paid a visit to the surrounding cayes last week to investigate similar reports of violations. BACONGO members consists of non-governmental organizations whose major goal is to act as a lobbying group for environmental issues. Sponsored by Area Representative Patty Arceo, site visits included the proposed subdivisions on Caye Caulker and the marine environment at Caye Chapel. Executive Director Daedra Isaacs commented, "This is just the first meeting of what will hopefully be a lasting relationship in our joint conservation efforts." She further reported that some complaints could not be verified and other reports contained incorrect information, but that monitoring would continue. Caye Caulker Village Chairman Fermin Marin and Green Reef President Mito Paz were present at the site visits as well. It was announced that government has received a request from Caye Chapel to conduct monitoring on their surrounding water quality.
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