SPTC approved dredging on north Ambergris Caye

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 16            April 23, 2009

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Last week The San Pedro Sun broke the story of the intention to dredge in an area on north Ambergris Caye, specifically on the property of both George and Ernesto Alamilla. After an interview conducted on Wednesday, April 15th with Councilor Severo Guerrero Sr., The Sun learned that dredging was approved by the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) on that same Wednesday night. The dredging was executed on Tuesday, April 21st, unsupervised by the relevant authorities, which was not in compliance with their approval conditions.

    Permit Number 11, issued in October of 2007, gave permission to extract sand, silt and mud from an area of the sea bed east of lot number 6 in the San Andres Area (survey plan at Entry number 9438 Registration Number 24) in Ambergris Caye for the creation of a boat access channel parallel and adjacent to proposed pier alignment (of diameter 300’x40’x5’), delineated by UTM coordinates: N1992400 and E0404151. That permit was never executed and expired on December 31st, 2007. Since the permit had expired almost one and half years ago, the permit had no validity and as a standard requirement, a reapplication had to be made to the Geology and Petroleum Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. SPTC Deputy Mayor Romel Gomez stated that he cannot recall when the application was re-approved, but because the decision had once been approved by the Ministry of Environment, the Town Council went ahead and locally re-approved the application on three recommendations. “The Town Council approved the application based on the agreement that the Boca del Rio Park be refilled with sand at their (Alamilla’s) own expense,” stated Gomez, adding that, “the dredging should be completed in a time span of four days from the date of commencement and that a silt netting be used to minimize the effects on the ecosystem.”

    Al Chanona, Manager for Dredging Operation for Johnson and Johnson, the company contracted to do the dredging, confirmed that the dredging permit was approved on Monday, April 20th by the Geology and Petroleum Department.

    Environmentalist Jevon Hulse from the Department of Environment explained that, “any dredging on the reef side of the island must be carefully executed; proper consideration given and that the environment along the reef system must be taken into account when dredging.”

    When asked if any study was conducted before executing the dredging, Deputy Mayor Gomez explained that none was carried out. “We cannot stop development,” he stated, explaining that, “we just have to ensure that developments are controlled.”

    The total volume of material applied for was 2,222 cubic yards but if the applicant needed more, they could not exceed 5,000 cubic yards. In order to minimize the effects of the dredging it is recommended that a small suction dredge using a box-head attachment be utilized for the extraction of materials from the sea bed. In addition, sedimentation curtains should be used at all times during the extraction. Gomez could not confirm if those steps were carried out because no representative from the Town Council visited the site before the dredging process started and no one from the Geology and Petroleum Department inspected the post dredging activities to ensure compliance.

    According to Chanona, however, all the necessary steps were taken to ensure that there was minimal impact on the reef.

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