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Waterloo port project faces opposition from coalition of environmental organisations

The two hundred million dollar cruise ship facility in the Port of Belize by Lord Ashcroft’s Waterloo Holdings is facing much opposition over the last few days.  The project is back on the table for discussion after it was placed aside under the previous administration.  The project is set to dump over ten million cubic meters of unsuitable material into an area between English Caye and the Turneffe Atoll. Last night the Department of the Environment held a public consultation to discuss the environmental impact assessment.  Presenting on behalf of the department was Environmental Officer Anthony Mai who explained the importance of the assessment.

Anthony Mai, Environmental Officer:The strengths of the Environmental Protection Act and its subsidiary regulation is that they look at environmental issues from a more comprehensive approach also it fully encompasses natural resource issues and natural resource issues and natural resource management. So again because it’s comprehensive and it considers all the major issues that one of the major strengths of the EIA regulation. Also the EIA regulation has one of the highest penalties for violation under the environmental laws of Belize and as such we again at the DOE we were always proud that the environmental laws in general had some of the highest penalties compared to other natural resource management legislation in the country and that’s the reason why you would see that you may always find that we are at court dealing with different environmental violations. It also removes the power of CEO and Minister to approve project and decisions are made at a very technical level. And so remember that the EIA process and the EIA report hat is generated through the process is a very technical process and technical report and so it only means then that the final decision making power should be placed in the hands of technical officers and so it’s a modern legislation. It also ensures transparency so it includes NGO as part of the decision making body, it also includes civil society as part of the decision making body and so it is not a pure decision from government it self it has other key players involved so that we could ensure that it’s a transparent process. It pools technical expertise from within the public service and from within the public. The EIA regulations has a specific composition of the NIAC Committee that reviews the EIA and one of the provisions under the law is the Department of Environment has the authority to coop any expertise within the public service and outside the public service that may be important in order for the NIAC, the committee to really understand the full scope of a project and so that is also one of the major strength. And then it also fosters collaboration between agencies both public and private and ensures that permitting agencies are aware of the issue of a project before hand. So a good example of that is this project that we are here to review tonight this project is multi faceted the issues are varied and so you’d have issues related to mining, you had marine related issues and so at the end of the day if this project is to proceed and I’m not saying that it will in fact a decision has not been made about this project as yet but they would say the developer still needs to ensure that all the mining permits are obtained or permission is obtained from the Central Building Authority.” 

There are a total of five steps that are done whenever an EIA is launched. First the project is submitted to the DOE then it is screened. This is where DOE determines if an EIA needs to be conducted or not. After that the project goes through a scoping phase where the DOE identifies all the issues and concerns surrounding the project. The project then enters its fourth stage where DOE conducts site inspections and public consultations where recommendations are made. In this phase the DOE can approve or deny the project. Finally if approved the project enters its monitoring phase where there is a joint compliance monitoring and enforcement with other regulatory agencies. According to Dr. Dionne Chamberlain-Miranda who was part of the head table last night indicated that the actual dredging volume is less than 7.5 million cubic meters and not 10 million as previously reported.

Dr. Dionne Chamberlain-Miranda:In terms of the offshore material placement I want you to know that throughout the presentation this will be done in as environmentally responsible manner as is done frequently and throughout the rest of the world in successful projects being ran by qualified experts and professionals like this one will be done by as well. The project presents no increased risk to flooding which I know has been a concern especially since in the media the persons who live in Port Loyola have been facing these issues right now. So for the nearby coastal areas this project will actually protect the adjacent areas and improve the local drainage and Mr.Herrera will point to these points when he speaks of the way that it will be constructed. I also want you to realize that many persons are concerned about a cruise and cargo port successfully existing however that is a norm and an example of that is in Port Miami and in other Caribbean countries as well and you can check these out online. In fact it is very important for both of them to coexist so that they can see the economic and the social requirements for a project to remain sustainable. Remember sustainability means that we’re also able to continue in perpetuity and provide the benefits to the society well beyond the project start up. The project is one of the very few cruise projects to continue to receive strong cruise line support in the current environment and within COVID-19 we know that many of the cruise lines have had to pause their services however we have executed letters of intention from these cruise lines stating that they are committed to this project which means that once this is built we actually have cruise lines that have committed to working with us which means the economy of Belize will be able to rebound with jobs from the construction phase all the way through developing it as a tourism product. This project will be delivered in 2023 and I want you to realize that come 2023 only birthing ports will be utilized as being requested by the cruise lines based on the fact that due to COVID-19 they will not be able to tender masses of people off into small boats and tender facilities. For our health and safety they need people to walk off healthily off a ship on their own so that there is no issue with contamination throughout a tendering process.”

Upon learning that the Port of Belize Project is back on the table many organizations have come forth to voice their concerns.  So far we are yet to hear from any group in agreement with the plan to dump dredged material into the open sea. Yesterday FECTAB held a press conference where they highlighted that the livelihood of fisher folks is at risk. Today we spoke with representative for the World Wildlife Fund Nadia Bood who told us that approximately 190 thousand people depend on the marine system for a livelihood. She added that the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries have proposed that the dredged material be dumped somewhere inland as an alternative.

Nadia Bood, Marine Scientist, World Wildlife Fund: “We encourage them to pursue something on land. If they’re supposed to push through with the project they should consider find a location on land to dump the material. In the presentations given yesterday, and they had a number of external experts that were saying a lot of false statements. You know that pretty much insult the intelligence of myself as  Belizean scientist who has been working in the marine environment for so many years and other scientists as well; I can also speak for them that they were really and truly insulting our intelligence in saying that there is no foreseen impact from the dumping of the material on the reef system because of where they’re gonna be doing it and the fact that what they will be dumping are the same materials that came from the sea. That is out right false because where they’re dredging is near the shore which has over the years pollutant run off from the land which have had accredited pretty much for years which means it has heavy metals, it has other pollutants attached to those soils. They claim that they’ll be using some of the material to fill their land and then one of the reasons they’re not pursuing any other disposal of the material on land is because the material is hazardous and it would be problematic to carry it further away on land but still they’re still proposing to dump it at sea and the sea is even more sensitive. You know any minor changes in the quality of the water, in the pesticides or mercury or whatever might be attached to those sediments can have devastating effects. Not to mention that those pollutants that may leak from those sediments might bioaccumulate in the tissue of the marine organism, in the fish that we eat which could potentially have some health problems for Belizeans going into the future as well. So what they’re pushing is – I’m appalled pretty much so my recommendation and the recommendation of the other NGOs which we are working with as part of the coalition  has been let them pursue an on land option for disposal of the dredge sediment, no disposal at sea should be entertained.”

Similar to yesterday’s press conference Bood noted with concerns that the Waterloo project is moving rather quickly after it was struck down by the previous administration. She went on to say that what raises eyebrows is the fact that this is all being done when there is yet to be an appointment of a CEO in the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change & Disaster Risk Management.

Nadia Bood, Marine Scientist, World Wildlife Fund: The Department of the Environment falls under the Ministry of Sustainable Development. To date there hasn’t been a CEO that has been assigned to that ministry. I don’t see why there’s an urgency to push through this project and to carry out this consultation before inputs from a CEO that should be the lead in charge of the Department of the Environment. This project was brought up months ago and the previous administration at the Cabinet level had shut it down and so we think that with the direction that things are going right now with the creation of the Blue Economy Ministry and the assignment of new people to the key ministries such as the Sustainable Development Ministry and the Blue Economy Ministry there needs to be some kind of strategic decision or discussion happening at that level before a project like this should ever be tabled again. A key thing that we also have is the government – and we have been happy in hearing this- that the new government has decided to create a Blue Economy Ministry and we would have been happy because then the whole concept of Blue Economy means that you will undertake a sustainable approach to the way you exploit our utilize our manage your coastal marine resources. This proposed development of dumping at the sea is not in line with what the Blue Economy is all about.”

In last night’s session the public was also allowed to ask their questions pertaining to the impacts and logistics behind the expansion project. The public echoed the concerns from the NGO’s and asked the persons at the head table if there would be any impacts to the barrier reef.

The other recurring question had to do with the impacts that fishermen locally may experience and the possibility that the dredging might increase flooding in the Port Loyola Area.

Final question was what are the conflicts of the proposed dredging to the inshore fishermen in Belize City.

“There should be none. During the presentation we talked about the habitats and we talked about the further survey within the offshore areas there. Within the area that is to be dredged it’s by no stretch of the imagination rich habitat for marine species. We mentioned the high turbidity levels in that area so the habitats are very sparse, they’re very poor and it’s not an area that is known to any Belizean as an important fishery area. It might be a migratory route, it might be a migratory route but it’s certainly not an area where one would go to catch fish on a commercial basis. We do understand there are some people who go there recreationally as artisanal fishermen we don’t believe that that would be much affected by this activity but in terms of their fishery as an industry there should be minimal to no impacts at all.”