Last week, we reported on the missing Environmental Compliance Plan for the causeway, which connects Port Coral to the Belize City mainland. Questions were rife last week after Sustainable Development Minister, Orlando Habet reported that the ECP was approved in 2019 under the UDP administration. The former Minister of State for the Environment, Doctor Omar Figueroa said he did not know the ECP existed. More than that, he said that he gave a clear directive from Cabinet to the Chief Environmental Officer that the ECP could not be approved without public consultation. It’s an issue that still has plenty of question marks but an ECP does exist because supposedly National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC), chaired by the Chief Environmental Officer, signed off on it. Today, speaking on the state of the cruise and port sectors, Cabinet issued an 800-word press statement addressing the issue in part. One of the most important takeaways is that a review into the matter began today with a briefing from the Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria. Cabinet says that they’ve instructed Alegria to promptly produce a written report on the factual circumstances associated with the processes engaged to seek regulatory approvals for these development projects. But how did the 2019 ECP come to being in the first place? Alegria explained last week that it was a painstaking process.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer: “We look at it from the bigger perspective, the bigger picture which is two projects. We refer to one as the Stakebank project and the other one as North Drowned Caye project. Back in 2006 both projects were treated separately and so each one did an EIA. I think the North Drowned Caye was called Ocean View Grand, the company and Stakebank was called Stakebank Enterprise. The Stakebank EIA was done by I think it was Mr.Garcia and the North Drowned Caye was done by the late Tom Grimshaw I think. So there was public consultations for both of those. There was a lot of discussions for and against. One of the issues that were argued out there with those projects was the causeway or the causeways because each project had a causeway. Each EIA had a causeway being proposed. And so that discussion was held in 2006, 2007 where the NIAC at the end of the day when they reviewed all the meaningful inputs from the general public from an environmental perspective, please, from an environmental perspective in their view that a causeway can be approved and permitted and hence in 2007 the ECP for North Drowned Caye included the causeway.”
In the meantime, Cabinet says that it will make available to social partners and the public the report and evidence produced and if there has been non-compliance with relevant regulatory processes and approvals, appropriate action will be taken including, if necessary, the rescission of purported permits or licenses. The statement goes on to say that GOB considers the causeways and the Northern Drowned Caye development to be real estate-related, and therefore, unlike Stake Bank, not foundational to the cruise tourism sector. Given various on-the-record pronouncements by Ministers of the previous UDP Administration with regard to the causeways, this Cabinet expects that the viability of the Stake Bank cruise facility, for its investors and financiers, is NOT contingent on the construction of causeways to the mainland.