Barges docking south of town?

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 24            June 21, 2007

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Proper and adequate docking for large vessels has always been a community issue. The municipal pier, for years, provided docking space for the various barge companies located on Ambergris Caye. However, the pier, located in front of Central Park, has always been surrounded by controversy. Many claiming that it was an “eye sore” and that it was the cause of noise pollution. Just recently, these barge operators were asked to utilize the port built by the Government of Belize located on the south west side of the island. The municipal pier was no longer to be used as a docking port for the barges.

    Barge operators have always been hesitant to use the port because of the difficulties faced when trying to access it, mainly waters are too shallow and the entrance is not wide enough. One barge company opted to purchase property and dock their barges on their private dock. In an interview with Ellis Eiley of Caribbean Depot his company has three 150 foot barges that utilize the new docking facility located on the south east part of the island. This new docking site has nevertheless stumbled on its own controversy.

    Various letters have been submitted and countless talks have been held. Located on a residential area, the property also faces the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is comprised of four zones including the reef, the sea grass beds, shark ray alley and the mangroves which are located adjacent to this private property. Mangroves have already been cleared to make way for the new docking facilities but in order to make it adequate, dredging will inevitable have to take place.

    In an interview with James Azueta, Ecosystems Management Unit Coordinator stated that the company has not yet filed a dredging permit. “We have carried out a preliminary study on the area and have in fact concluded that such a development will not have an immediate impact on the reserve. However, in the future it will be a factor. If the company should file for a permit, then they need to carry out a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which we will scrutinize closely. Development will occur, we can’t stop that but we want it to occur in a manner that will cause the least impact on the environment.”

    Melanie McField, scientist and researcher of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef commented that there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. “Dredging is something that needs to be looked at seriously whenever it happens to a close proximity of the Barrier Reef. Even more so when it is so close to Hol Chan. Dredging affects not only the area that is being worked on but the outskirts of it, as well. It reduces the quality of the water making visibility extremely bad. Silting is crucial because this directly affects the reef and does have a hugely negative impact on it. But we also have to look at the re-shuffling of the soil. Pollutants long forgotten and buried might be pulled up and these could be detrimental to the environment. Many things need to be taken into consideration before this project can be allowed to go through.”

    Dr. McField also stated that manatees have been found in the waters close to the private property. Manatees that might have to look for a new home with the increase in boat traffic to the area. “We can not forget the accidents and spills that may occur,” ended Dr. McField.

    Speaking with Mayor Elsa Paz, The San Pedro Sun found out that the permits granted for such a project are out of her jurisdiction. Dredging is approved by the Department of Geology and the building of dock is handled by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
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