The recent controversy about sand being excavated and removed from the island has sparked speculation and finger pointing. After extensive research, The San Pedro Sun has "un-earthed " the truth about this issue.
Presently, there are four valid excavation permits in effect on Ambergris Caye – three are private permits and one is a public permit. Inspector of Mines, Evadne Wade of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Geology and Petroleum Department (GPD), awarded these permits. The private permits issued may be used for residential and land development. Public permits are issued for the repair of streets and the sand can be sold to residents of the island. The San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) currently holds the public permit.
In a telephone interview with The San Pedro Sun, Inspector Wade explained that any Belizean citizen, village or town council administration, can apply for an excavation permit. He or she is required to state the location they intend to excavate within the country. The Inspector and her team then conduct a technical assessment of the area, looking at many factors, including environmental impact. Concurrently, GPD asks, in the case of San Pedro Town, SPTC, to support or recommend if the area should be excavated. If SPTC does not support the project of the applicant, the Minister of Natural Resources "steps in" and ultimately makes the final decision.
"The fate of the sand is not mandated by government," stated Inspector Wade. This means that whatever sand is excavated on the island may be retained and/or legally removed from the island. The only way to stop this from happening is by petitioning the Ministry of Natural Resources. "If the residents of Ambergris Caye desire to have the excavated sand remain on the island, they need to take a collective position; for example, by signing a Petition. After signatures have been collected and meetings are held between, GPD and/or concerned residents, recommendations are made to the Minister responsible for Minerals, in order to make a final decision on the matter. A moratorium on extraction, removal, retention, etc. may be put into effect to prevent any sand from being removed from the island. Once the moratorium is in effect, a legalization processes may be initiated to prevent any further extraction, removal, etc.," she explained. "At this moment any valid permit/license holder who is removing the excavated material from the island is not doing anything illegal. It may be frowned upon but it is not illegal," she continued. "All of the foregoing matter is based on what the majority wants to take to the Minister," she ended.
In an interview with Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr., the petition process is something his office will be looking into. He said, "we will do whatever it takes to prevent this from happening." The San Pedro Sun will be informing its readers on the progress of this Petition in upcoming issues.