Avalon Reef Club Resort presents EIA

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 1            January 10, 2002

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In a refreshing show of interest, both by a developer and the community, a well attended meeting was held last Thursday to reveal the development plans of Ambergris Caye's newest resort, Avalon Reef Club. Over 50 concerned citizens of the island, representatives of the resort and its environmental consulting firm, San Pedro Town Council and Ms. Iselda Humes of the Department of Environment (DOE) were present. To proceed with the resort's plans, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was required by the DOE. An EIA is requested when construction being proposed poses possible negative affects to the environment. The DOE requests all public and private agencies, corporations and individual persons consider the environmental impacts of a proposed project before making decisions. To this end, a preliminary meeting to assess the resort's plans was held December 13th by the National Environmental Assessment Committee (NEAC) where public consultations were recommended.

    To comply with this, Avalon has, for the past few weeks, provided a copy of their EIA for public viewing at the San Pedro Town Hall. Representatives of Tunich-Nah Consultants, who prepared the EIA, presented the main points of this EIA to those attending the meeting. It was first noted that the developer had changed its original concept of digging a channel across the Avalon land from sea to lagoon. The newly proposed plans were then provided for those gathered and included the following facts: Canals running from the lagoon side to mid-property, and a marina and canal on the seaside of the property were presented as an alternative option. Three hundred feet of land will separate the lagoon side canals and the marina. The canals will be approximately nine meters wide and three meters deep. The marina will provide 60 boat slips. Avalon Reef Club property covers an area of 24 acres with a 20 meter mangrove buffer zone on the lagoon side. Approximately three of these acres are to be used for the development of 51 additional villas providing 245 new units, a water treatment plant, and solid and liquid waste disposal sites. An area of 5.89 acres will be used for the proposed canals, an access road and a 1.2 kilometer footpath. The other 15.11 acres will remain as "green area" for landscaping and natural habitat. Of all the flora and fauna researched, a total of eight bird, one mammal, and two reptile species were considered to be species of conservation concern. Construction will be completed in four phases, will employ approximately 1400 people (non-continuously) over the entire duration of the project (18 months) and is stated to "inject $30 million into the Belize economy."

    Potable water will be supplied by a reverse osmosis system providing 220,000 liters per day (without recycling) provided by three additional on-property wells dug approximately 100-150 feet deep. Recycled gray water will be treated at a water treatment plant, disinfected and used to irrigate landscaping and flush toilets. Power will be supplied by the national grid with two backup generators. Solid waste disposal will be provided by a combination of composting and deposits in government landfills, recycling (construction waste) or incineration (toxic and biodegradable waste).

    It was stated that, once operational, the resort will employ some 250 full-time workers and generate an estimated $2 million per month in tourism receipts. Avalon Resorts currently owns nine other resorts; eight in Mexico and one in Panama.

    Mitigation and monitoring plans outlined in the EIA were addressed at the meeting as well as many other concerns expressed by residents at the meeting. The concerns and their rebuttal were as follows:

    Construction - 1) Dredging of the canals and marina on property. The EIA recommended that sediment curtains be used while dredging and that dredging only take place during prevailing easterly and southerly winds. 2) Transportation of materials. Recommended was that barges of low draught be used and be restricted to barging during calm weather and daylight hours. Monitoring of the above mentioned activities is to be provided by Hol Chan Marine Reserve Rangers. 3) Amount of Housing Units. The number of villas being constructed was argued to be way beyond the limits of the Ambergris Caye Master Plan and that the area was originally zoned as a conservation zone. Which "master plan" of three was questioned by the consultant which brought more comments from the chairman of the Ambergris Caye Planning Committee who stated there was only one master plan to follow for the past 10 years. The chairman commented further that although he was in favor of the project, that public relations could be improved with regards to the proposed development. He added that many times the planning committee is not consulted and that this project was already a "done deal" when the ground-breaking took place. The chairman stated the proposed dwellings exceeded the master plan's 28-foot limit, two-story building. The consultant then referred to the Blackstone Report and it was stated this development was justified by the "Tourism Strategy Plan for Belize." 4) Blocking Public Access. The crowd questioned the legality of dredging a canal through the beach, thus interrupting the right-of-way (66-feet from the water to property, or "Queen's Land") which provides public access (people passing on the beach). It was stated that a drawbridge would be built to traverse the waterway. A later comment by the assistant manager of the resort stated, "We are not impeding the Queen's path." He assured those present of their respect for the public's right-of-way and that the resort would not keep the bridge open.

    Effluent Management - 1) Nutrient overload - Water quality is to be monitored weekly and the mangrove buffer will provide filtration to alleviate contamination of surrounding waters.

    Solid Waste Management - The sewage system and how it would span the canals was questioned. It was stated that underground and underwater pipes would be used.

    Water Abstraction - 1) Over-pumping of fresh water. This will be controlled by a one-way valve system put in place and water monitoring. 2) Disposal of brine. This will be deposited into a 200-foot well.

    Alteration to Coastal Ecosystem - 1) Erosion and sedimentation along coastline. It was stated that most of the marina and the canal system would be excavated inside the property. In compliance with recommendations, the developer stated they will retain the 20-meter mangrove buffer and no units will be built along this area. They will also build a diversion wall at the entrance to the canal along the coast and a retaining wall inside the marina.

    Need for Marina - The marina was stated to not only be a safe-haven for all residents to use for their boats during storms but to be an attraction to visitors since the resort was being marketed as being "over the water." To the suggestion of an offshore marina the resort management replied it would spoil the beautiful view of the sea. One attendee argued that the excavation of the marina was only a means to provide landfill for the property's large amount of low-lying areas. Another person questioned if this excavated material would be shared with the town council for street repairs, etc. and the resort managers assured this request would be considered.

    Concluding his comments, the consultant explained that all comments were being recorded by Ms. Humes who represented NEAC at the meeting as well. He explained that at the conclusion of the consultation process (January 15th) NEAC will meet again. If the project is approved, NEAC will draft a compliance letter, with recommended "dos and don'ts," to be signed by the developer. He also invited the public to read the EIA available at the town hall and to record their comments in the ledger provided with it. Concerns may also be e-mailed to envirodept@btl.net or faxed to 08-22862.

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