Island residents oppose plans to build a water taxi terminal on beachfront of former Ruby’s Hotel
Wednesday, May 20th, 2020
The proposed construction of a massive water taxi terminal on the beachfront of the former Ruby’s Hotel, now known Coastal Bay in San Pedro Town, continues to face strong public disapproval. Recent unconfirmed information as of press time is that the project has received the green light, and construction of the terminal is to start soon. This has raised concerns among many islanders, who have voiced their adamant rejection to the project, and are seeking support via an online petition and other means to stop the unwanted project.
The proposed terminal is sanctioned by owners of the hotel property, the San Pedro Belize Express (SPBE) Water Taxi. They acquired the said property in December 2018, and almost immediately thereafter expressed plans to dredge the area to make way for their new boat terminal. The plans are to relocate from their current location at the Municipal Dock in front of Central Park.
Islanders object to this idea due to its location within the center of town, the commercialization of the natural beauty of the area, and the fact that a multi-million-dollar terminal was built specifically for this type of service on the lagoon side of the island. The proposed location of the new terminal is less than a block from the San Pedro Roman Catholic Primary School, deeming it a safety threat to the students. This will come in the form of traffic gridlock every time boats arrive packed with visitors, paired with students on the roads during certain hours and regular traffic that already congests the area. This deems the proposed location unsuitable for such a project. Thus, the resistance from the island community is solid.
According to those who have seen the plans of the project, the design calls for a massive terminal over the water, complete with coffee shops, restaurants, and a three-story parking facility in front of the beach, among other amenities. The structure where the hotel is will be allegedly demolished to give way to the parking facility. Another factor is that the project appears to be larger than the property. The property is reportedly only 50 square feet, and the construction is estimated to cover an area double that size. Thus, they would have to build a long dock, which will harbor large vessels. One of the main concerns, besides noise pollution, is the water contamination caused by the boat’s engines, which would affect the nearby sea life and make the immediate beachfront area of nearby businesses’ (hotels and restaurants) unattractive and congested, negatively affecting these establishments. But before any works take place, dredging must take place. After visiting with the Mining Unit in the Ministry of Natural Resources, The Sun confirmed that no such permits have been issued to SPBE.
Campaign to stop the project
Concerned residents have launched an online awareness campaign to get signatures from as many people as possible to stop the building of the boat terminal. Some of the points in the online community petition demands the water taxi company relocate to the International Boat Terminal at the Sunset Boardwalk on the lagoon side, which was built for such purpose. Secure the safety and wellbeing of the students of the primary school near the proposed development and pursue and demand the payment for unpaid rent of the Municipal Dock, among others. To sign the online petition visit https://rb.gy/mvt8gh
In regards to the unpaid rent of the dock, in May 2018, Mayor Daniel Guerrero confirmed that after much pressure, SPBE began paying a flat monthly fee of $2,000. However, no documentation was provided to support it.
In the past, The San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) has publicly expressed its disapproval, stressing that the only place they should move to is to the Sunset Boardwalk. Mayor Guerrero has publicly said that his administration is against the project and will not support it. If SPBE decides to go ahead and apply for a permit to dredge, they will have to get a recommendation from the SPTC. Guerrero indicated that they would object to it and hopes that the Ministry of Natural Resources will respect their decision and not grant the permit. The SPTC even shared their disapproval via a letter addressed to the San Pedro Chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association in January 2019.
Area Representative and Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr., who seems to be supporting the project, agrees with the relocation by the lagoon side, but not until that area is fit for large boats. Water taxi companies complain that the lagoon waters are too shallow for their larger boats. Thus, they have refused to relocate since the boat terminal was opened in 2014. The San Pedro Sun tried to reach both the Mayor and the Minister, but neither were available for comments.
Official position of the People’s United Party Belize Rural South Office
In a release shared via their Facebook account, the People’s United Party (PUP) through the Belize Rural South Office officially gave their position regarding this project. The release signed by PUP’s Standard Bearer for the said area shared their support for the island residents against the building of the water taxi terminal. The statement included:
‘While we are always supportive of investment on the island, the present powers that be should have never entertained such a project right smack in the middle of an already congested downtown and, more importantly, directly in front of a primary school with almost 1,000 students. It can be (God forbid) a recipe for tragedy waiting to happen. There has not been any consultation with the island residents by the relevant authorities.
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye continues to have an underutilized water terminal at the back by the Saca Chispas Field where $7 Million Dollars were allegedly spent by the Government with little to show for it and thereby causing controversy as to whether it was adequate enough to handle the large vessels. Had the entire $7 Million Dollars been properly invested, it could have possibly prevented us from reaching this controversial crossroad.
We call on the Belize Rural South Area Representative to state his position on this important matter that is of grave concern to the residents of San Pedro Town. We stand in solidarity with the residents, and we are prepared to mobilize to prevent such a project from being forced on the people of our island.’
Tour Guide and Tour Operators Associations reject the proposed project as well
The San Pedro Tour Operators Association (SPTOA) believe that the relocation to the terminal at the lagoon is the best option once the facilities are prepared. They shared that the main issue with building the terminal by the beachfront area is its proximity to the primary school. They recommend that perhaps SPBE should hire the services of experts who can explain the logistics to the developers on how it will impact the school and businesses nearby. If it was to happen, then the company must make adjustments to their plans to accommodate the children, perhaps create a pick-up and drop off zone. Taxis should park at the parking lot across from the Honourable Louis Sylvestre Sporting Complex and be informed when a boat has arrived, to avoid constant congestion in the area.
The San Pedro Tour Guide Association agrees with the SPTOA that the water taxi should relocate to the terminal at the lagoon side. They stated that they are working with local authorities to make it happen.
International Water Taxi Terminal at Sunset Boardwalk
The multi-million-dollar Sunset Boardwalk Terminal on the lagoon side of Ambergris Caye opened in 2014 for the relocation of all water taxi carriers. Those businesses pointed out that the lagoon channel is too shallow for their vessels. It is known that during the consultation process, before its building, residents raised their concerns and voiced their opinions that the project would not be feasible due to shallow waters in the lagoon. Dredging was suggested, but local environmentalists and fishermen opposed those plans. The project was still approved and completed, and today it only serves boats traveling to Chetumal, Mexico, while the relocation of the major water taxi companies servicing between San Pedro and Belize remain on the beachfront side of the island.
Attempts were made to dredge the channel
In January 2019, the SPTC started to dredge the channel, but the project was halted due to financial issues. No major developments have been made to address the problems of that channel, and it is uncertain when any dredging would take place, given the fact that it is an estimated $2 million investment.
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