Q: We have seen much activity south of San Pedro. Speaking to various people, we have found information that has led me to believe that this site will be used as the home of a new barge landing. However, this area is close to Hol Chan. Can you tell me what is going on?
/s/ Via Email
A: The area that you are referring to is a residential zone known as Boca Ciega, three and a half miles south of San Pedro Town. This area is a privately owned property which, at the present time, is under plans to be a landing for barges belonging to Caribbean Depot. In the past, barge companies were allowed to land in the heart of San Pedro Town, however, this was discontinued and all companies were asked to move to the new barge facility provided by the government located on the south west side of the island.
In Issue # 21 of this year, The San Pedro Sun investigated the first insinuations of a barge facility on the south of the island. At that time, this reporter spoke with Ellis Eiley of Caribbean Depot who stated that because of the many problems associated with the new landing facilities, his three 150 foot barges could not access it. These problems stemmed from the entry channel not being deep or wide enough for the big barges.
At that time, letters were submitted and talks were held in opposition to this proposed development. Speaking with Craig Moore of the Geology Department The San Pedro Sun discovered that indeed Eiley has requested a dredging permit on this area in order to construct a deeper channel. According to Moore, dredging will be of 14,600 yards and could take, depending on the equipment used and taking into consideration setting up and preparation, up to two weeks to complete. 14,600 yards of sand dredged, would be an equivalent to 973 truck loads (each truck load is 15 yards each) full of sand. However, Moore commented that this dredging has not been approved. “We need to receive the proper input from Fisheries and Environment to make a proper assessment,” he stated. This reporter, however, mentioned that a petition against the dredging was circulating San Pedro to which Moore stated, “We need the input from the community to make a proper decision. We cannot move ahead without that. So we welcome it. Please send us you thoughts.”
The petition mentioned above is one by concerned citizens (for further information, contact Peter Verralls at 226-4025). In this petition reasons are highlighted as to why residents would not like the barge facility in the proposed area. “You are just moving a problem from the center of town to another undesignated location,” commented a resident of the area. “Not only that, but the proximity of where the dredging will take place is too close to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve for comfort.”
In Issue #21 this reporter also spoke to scientist and researcher of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Dr. Melanie McField who 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, which are protected by the Governnment of Belize, 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.
At that time The San Pedro Sun also interviewed James Azueta, Ecosystems Management Unit Coordinator who stated that the company had 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.” Both Fisheries and Environment have yet to file their input on such a development.