Two weeks ago a skirmish broke out between property owners in the area and the owners of a water barge from Caye Chapel. The water barge owners sunk several cement pilings in front of a residence and used them to tie up their water barges. When the barges were filled they invariably got stuck in the shallows while being towed out to the shipping lanes. The resulting noise and silt created by the tugboats made nearby hotel and private property owners angry enough to hire a lawyer.
A letter from Dons Richard Waithe, attorney for a group of concerned citizens, was sent to the Ministry of Natural Resources. The letter outlined problems at the dock which included illegal dredging operations and the sinking of cement posts into the seabed without proper authorization. (Three of the four cement pilings have been broken by the water barges - apparently they were not sturdy enough to hold the barges.)
A letter from Mayor Alberto Nuñez to the manager of Caye Chapel Ventures Ltd. addressed the problems of noise and water pollution and the erection of concrete pilings. He pointed out that these problems along with the loss of a swimming area have caused hotels to lose business.
In another letter to the Caribbean Depot Company Mayor Nuñez reminded them of the operating hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. These hours were set by former Mayor Manuel Heredia in a letter dated May, 31, 1995. He outlined the following conditions to be met by all barge owners using the unloading area:
1. Hours of operation will be between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.Failure to comply with these conditions will result in the loss of docking privileges or legal action being taken.
2. Only one barge will be in the channel at a time.
3. Barges will be removed immediately after unloading.
4. No air horns will be used.
5. All engines and vehicles used for unloading must have mufflers in good repair.
6. Barges will have to dock offshore if they arrive after 7 p.m. and before 7 a.m.
In a meeting with representatives from the Department of the Environment and the Fisheries Department, Will Lala, owner of Caribbean Villas hotel showed a video taken from the Caribbean Villas dock. The video showed barges operating at daybreak, stuck water barges being pulled by noisy tugboats and a large section of sea being churned to coffee colored mud by the tugboats.
Lala also showed photographs of the unloading area showing scattered debris and damage to trees on private property. According to him, the property belongs to James Blake of Belize City and is not a legal right of way. He said that Blake has attempted unsuccessfully to have the unloading operations removed from his property, going so far as to erect a cement block wall. The wall was knocked down shortly after being put in place.
According to Deputy Mayor Elito Arceo the water barges have been instructed to move their operations to the municipal pier downtown.