Avalon Resort breaks new ground

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 35            September 6, 2001

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A short ground-breaking ceremony this past Saturday marked the spot for the "largest hotel yet" on Ambergris Caye, The Avalon Reef Resort. The site, previously housing 32 units for Casa Caribe, will now be expanded to 242 units with major improvements in infrastructure, landscaping and services.

    A release issued by the Ministry of Budget Management, Investment and Trade stated that approximately $40 million will be invested by owner Mike Kelly of Avalon Resorts Group. This group, operating out of Cancun, Mexico, also manages resorts in Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Panama, Costa Rica and California, USA. The construction of this project will reportedly employ over 1,000 workers and when completed, over 300 people.

    Mr. Kelly expressed his confidence in the Belizean economy and his appreciation for the "close cooperation from government, in particular, the Ministry of Investment and BELTRAIDE."

    As usual, development of this size raises environmental issues. Some concerns exist over the proposed conceptual plan for the project. Reportedly two different areas are proposed for a marina; one being inside the lagoon on the west side of the island. Allegedly to access this area, a channel is proposed, to be dug from the sea side to the lagoon. These reports were confirmed by the Department of the Environment who stated that a Terms of Reference document, which involves the approach, areas of analysis and reporting required to complete an Environmental Impact Assessment has been issued to Avalon Resort. Belize's Chief Environmental Officer, Ismael Fabro, assured this newspaper that everything will be monitored and evaluated before this type of construction begins.

    Another issue raised was that of Dredging Permit 76 of 2001 signed by the Geology Department on August 28, 2001. This was approved despite the recent agreement between San Pedro Town Council and various departments in the Ministry of Natural Resources that no additional dredging take place on the east side of Ambergris Caye. Last Friday, Mayor Alberto Nuñez received a faxed copy of this document which was issued for "land and beach reclamation only, in front and behind a seawall to upgrade and complete an existing ten room development." It further stated extraction of material (dredging of limestone) is not to exceed 8000 cubic yards from a specified burrow site with the dimensions 500 feet by 150 feet by 3 feet to take place at a minimum 300 feet from shore. If practicable, sedimentation curtains were to be used at all times. Mayor Nuñez reported that according to Geology, if he received any questions regarding this document he was to direct them to the Minister of Natural Resources, Hon. Johnny Briceño, who approved the permit. When mentioned if this was in direct violation of the Town Councils Act that supposedly allows local government more autonomy, one San Pedro Town Councilor stated, "The San Pedro Town Council stands behind their original statement of no additional dredging being permitted on the east side of Ambergris Caye."

    Furthermore, upon contacting the Ambergris Caye Planning Committee, the San Pedro Sun was informed they had no prior knowledge of this expansion. This area of North Ambergris Caye is also very close to Mexico Rocks, a popular and much frequented snorkeling location. According to the Ambergris Caye Master Plan, "this is one of the few areas with a well organized patch reef between the coast and the barrier reef." The plan continues to list the long term objectives and precluding development in this area that includes: 1) construction of sea walls and other anti-erosion engineering, 2) construction and operation of the pier type marina of a high density nature and/or for business purposes, 3) the injection of significant volumes of sewerage into the near shore and immediate reef areas, 4) the dredging of near shore areas to create bathing beaches or accommodate piers, 5) the extensive clearance of trees and herbaceous vegetation from the beach and back beach areas, 6) any other activities that will in any way alter the sea bed, 7) discharge of any type onto the beach or into the sea. Local conservation organizations, marine protection agencies and environmentally conscience individuals have for the past few years focused their efforts on lobbying government to designate this area as a marine reserve or an annex of the nearby Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve.   

    Attempts made on deadline day Tuesday to contact Avalon Resort Project Manager Steve Payne, BELTRAIDE, or a representative of the Geology and Petroleum Department regarding the conceptual plan were unsuccessful. Minister Briceño, as well, was unavailable for comment. The San Pedro Sun will inform its readers of any additional information on these issues as it becomes available.

    Wielding gold-painted spades at the ground breaking were Minister of Budget Management, Investment and Trade Hon. Ralph Fonseca, Owner Mike Kelly and his son, Mike Kelly Jr., Office Administrator for Patty Arceo Naie Sabido, Ryan Lipp and Project Manager Steve Payne.

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