New Subdivision raises many concerns

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 21            June 4, 2009

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Aerial view of the proposed subdivision site. (Courtesy of Google Earth)

Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) submitted to DOE by the San Pedro Town Council in July 2008.

Signatures of the applicants for the ECP.

San Pedro Town is one of the fastest growing communities in the country, making land to build residential homes a high demand. For that reason, Ambergris Caye has become an ideal place to invest and make subdivisions which accommodate the demands for house lots. Jumping on the opportunity to supply the great demand for land is Sugar Caye Development who this week, by means of a press releases announced their plans to develop a new subdivision.

    The proposed subdivision got the green light from the Land Utilization Authority (LUA) to subdivide on 29th of October in 2008 under the name of David Mitchell for and on behalf of Sugar Caye Development Limited. The LUA approved for parcel 5054 next to the DFC area, containing 63.2 acres of land subdivided into 421 parcels of land. The only requirement is for the developer to provide centralized open spaces which by law is 5% of unusable land; which in this subdivision is equivalent to the size of 21 house lots.

    The new subdivision announced by Sugar Caye Development only came to light this week but is actually a project that had started over a year ago. In fact, the new subdivision is documented at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment as being a residential subdivision development project by the San Pedro Town Council. A number of documents provided to The San Pedro Sun show that in July of 2008, the San Pedro Town Council submitted an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) to the Department of the Environment (DOE) for the same subdivision that Sugar Caye Development has now announced. The subdivision got environmental clearance on November 10th 2008 when it was approved by Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria.

    Because the subdivision is a low laying mangrove wetland area, investors involved in the subdivision had to consider cutting down mangrove and filling the land. As part of the subdivision plan, a channel will be constructed to allow access by water to the area from the proposed site to an area of the lagoon near the Towns Marina. Documents show that on April 1st, 2009, the Forestry Department approved the Belize Ports Authority (BPA) permit application to clear mangrove on parcels number 5196 and 5027. Another document dated April 3rd 2009 shows that the Geology and Petroleum Department also approved the Belize Port Authority with a permit to dredge on parcels 5196 and 5027. Both permits were necessary to create a channel that would allow the developer with the needed water access that was necessary for the new subdivision.

    Both the San Pedro Town Council and the Area Representative Honorable Manuel Heredia in separate letters dated November 28th, 2009, wrote to the Belize Ports Authority (BPA) expressing full support and asking for courtesies to be granted to David Mitchell for the approval for excavation of a canal leading to his subdivision. On December 19th the Belize Ports Authority wrote David Mitchell where the letter stated that they had granted request for access to dredge through two parcels of land belonging to BPA.

    So why did the Town Council submit an ECP for a project that is not theirs? Deputy Mayor Nestor Gomez explained to The Sun that I dont really know why, what I do know is that the project was only brought up verbally during a Town Council meeting but no hard document was presented before us. While Gomez could not say why the project was not made public, he said that the necessary permits were secured with the help of the Mayor Elsa Paz and the Area Representative Honorable Manuel Heredia. When asked if the Town Council knew that they will be held responsible should anything goes wrong with the subdivision Gomez stated, I dont think so.

    According to Alegria, any non-compliance of the terms within the ECP will be answerable by the San Pedro Town Council who submitted the ECP and not the investor. Alegria went on to say that the SPTC never stated in the ECP that it was not their investment. Alegria stated that there is no subdivision under the name of Sugar Caye Development neither under Grand Belizean Island Company Limited; all documents are under the San Pedro Town Council and the Belize Ports Authority. Alegria could not state whether any inspection for this project was conducted before the approval of the ECP but said that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not necessary because it was a project which local authorities on the island claimed they were undertaking. For the subdivision to take place permits need to be obtained to cut mangroves as well as permits to dredge for interconnectivity of channels within the 63 acres of land.

    Retired Chief Hydrologist at the Belize Meteorologist Service Frank Panton is spearheading the subdivision. Panton could not confirm if the required permits have been obtained to conduct dredging and mangrove clearance within the 63 acres of land. In fact Panton stated there is little mangrove in the area and that as part of the subdivision, they will be planting mangrove along the channels.

    The project has come under close scrutiny by the Ambergris Caye Citizen for Sustainable Development (ACCSD). In a meeting with the San Pedro Town Council on Tuesday June 2nd, the ACCSD pointed out their concerns that the new subdivision will have on the community. Those concerns includes the location of the new subdivision which is directly next to the sewage pounds, the health complication that residents could be exposed to because of the proximity to sewage deposits that is empted into mangrove area where the subdivision is proposed and the importance of the mangrove area to the sewage system which serves as a filter.

    The SPSUN made multiple efforts to contact Mayor Elsa Paz for comment on the project but calls were not returned and all attempts were futile.
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