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Port of Magical Belize gets the Green Light

It’s a go! The Government of Belize has given the greenlight for Portico Enterprise Limited; a massive multi-million dollars cruise ship port terminal situated along the coastline, some eight miles south of Belize City, near the Sibun River. The company, Portico Enterprises Limited, signed an MOU with the government in September 2017 for the construction of the cruise port. Two years later in 2019, the company signed a Joint Development Agreement with Royal Boskalis Westminster Contracting Limited, a Dutch dredging company with 110 years of engineering design and dredging experience. On April 9, 2021, the Department of Environment gave the company environmental clearance for the construction and operation of the port. One of the company’s Directors, David Gegg, spoke to Love News.

David Gegg, Director, Portico Enterprise Limited: “We signed an ECP with the Department of Environment on Friday. That ECP requires us to do quite a bit of documentation. For instance we have to provide them with a detailed engineering plan of the peninsula that we are proposing to build, we have to provide them with a manatee management plan and then we also have to provide them with rapid ecological assessment of the area where the road is to go from our site to the link with the George Price Highway.”

Reporter: Does the company own the land in the sea and the land that the road will traverse ? 

David Gegg, Director, Portico Enterprise Limited: “We own the land  on the main land which is two hundred and fifty acres and we have the right to use the sea bed. The EIA was done not only on the impact of the road and the bridge but of the entire project. But the DOE on the recommendation of NIAC decided to allow phasing of the project and the first phase is what I just told you about where we have to submit engineering plans, manatee management plans and ecological assessments of the area where the road is to go. The EIA adequately covers the environmental assessment of the area where the peninsula is to go and where the dredging is to take place as well as the land area where the port will be located on the mainland. We still hope that it can be 2023 but keep in mind that that public consultation was June 19th of last year. We’re now into April and while we did in fact get initial environmental clearance in August of last year for a variety of reasons we signed the ECP only last Friday here in April. So there have been delays in the process, the bureaucracy, we hope that there are no further delays but these kinds of delays certainly would have a bearing on when we start and when we finish.”

While this is good news for Portico Enterprise and its investors, environmental NGOs are not happy. In fact, months before the green light was given, NGOs such as Fragments for Hope and Oceana Belize voiced their concerns regarding the development. After news broke that Portico Enterprise was given the go ahead, Oceana Belize fired off a press release in which it expressed that the proposed scale of dredging for this project is significant cause for concern. Vice President Janelle Chanona said that proposed mangrove clearing along the coast comes at a time when the importance of mangroves, especially in fighting climate change, is being promoted for increased protections. Gegg responded to the concerns, saying that the NGO’s have failed to create jobs and boost the economy.

David Gegg, Director, Portico Enterprise Limited: “I have not much to say about what the NGOs are saying other than the fact that they do nothing to create job opportunities and to grow the economy of Belize so I don’t have much patience for the NGOs right now.”

Reporter: They also say that there’s no formula to project a positive return on the size of the investment that you’re hauling in for this project.

David Gegg, Director, Portico Enterprise Limited: “That is not true.”

Reporter: What is the facts

David Gegg, Director, Portico Enterprise Limited: “We have done our studies, we have done projections. We know what is needed to generate the returns that are needed on this kind of investment and we feel that we have them. Hipolito if you look at the environmental studies that were carried out over the last two to three years, if you were to read them and I regret to say this but I don’t think the environmentalists have read the studies they’re over twelve hundred pages long, we  have spent together with our partner in the Netherlands Royal Boskalis Westminster ten million euros on acquiring the land, in carrying out the studies. They’re some of the most detailed, thorough and comprehensive studies ever done. I would venture to say not a single one of those environmentalists have read those studies in detail. The land that we were able to purchase is the land that is closest to natural deep water so we minimize the amount of dredging that has to be done and you know we’re minimizing the impact on the environment by creating a peninsula of land. Let me make it very clear that we’re not pumping any kind of materials in to the sea in a reckless kind of way. Containment will be created for the full peninsula before any amount of dredge material is pumped into that containment area.”

 Gegg told Love News that 2023 remains the year that the port officially opens. He says that this is what the economy needs as it will create thousands of jobs and generate revenue.

David Gegg, Director, Portico Enterprise Limited: The port project itself is two hundred and twenty four million US dollars. We have a commitment from a very large international chain of hotels in the US to do a three hundred room resort hotel that’s another seventy four million so it is about three hundred million. Cruise Lines have expectations that by the time we can open COVID will be well behind us. So we don’t see the pandemic as affecting us, we hope that it won’t in terms of raising the capital for the project. In fact you know the sources to which we have gone to try and identify and raise capital recognize that Belize needs to get back on board with the building of its economy and we think that we will get help from them for that very reason not to mention the fact that the project is viable, it’s what we think the cruise industry wants and seeks and we think it’s something that Belize needs and will help to grow our economy significantly. It’s gonna be a huge economic driver, it’s gonna create thousands of jobs both in the construction phase but especially later on once were operational and once we can attract the very large ships of today to Belize. I mean when this industry started in 1998 the first ship that Norwegian brought to Belize was six hundred and fifty passengers. Today you’re looking at ships of sixty five hundred passengers and most of the new ships being built and deployed to the Caribbean are of that capacity. We will be able to accommodate those kinds of ships because they will be able to navigate safely to our location, they’ll be able to step off the ships and onto buses waiting for them and go on tour and save a lot of time and the cruise lines come to any destination because they make money selling tours and that is what we will make it possible for them to do.”

Vice President of Oceana, Janelle Chanona, had noted to Love FM back in January, quote, “if you look at the number of projects in that area and look at four, between Stake Bank, Port Magical, the Port Expansion and now the cruise ship port that’s being proposed in this very tight area you have all of this development happening it cannot be that you’re looking at those independently because the combined collective impact will be very very significant immediately in this proximity but most importantly going out to the rest of the reef.”  End of quote.