$6 million Sunset Boardwalk Project underused
Friday, January 30th, 2015
Under the Sustainable Tourism Program (STP) over $6 million was spent on the San Pedro Sunset Boardwalk Project and Water Taxi terminal. Despite vigorous opposition by the locals on the island, officials ignored community objection, preceding its completion on March 14, 2014. Almost one year later, the facility is grossly underused, with no clear indication when it will meet its full potential as originally intended. In fact, the all but deserted facilities are an easy target for vandals and are already showing signs of wear and neglect.
The project was intended to transform the Embarcadero Area from a traditionally used area, to what would be the welcoming site for visitors to our island. It would have seen the lagoon side, customarily used by fishermen to clean their catch, transformed to a concrete sunset boardwalk stretching across 2000 linear feet. It would have been complimented with a small-scale bustling artisanal shopping area. As part of the plan, the development should have incorporated a multipurpose pier, housing international and domestic water taxi terminals. It was also to include a football field with restrooms and changing rooms constructed on reclaimed lagoon-land area. The project was executed to encourage locals and tourists to visit an atmosphere of leisure and relaxation, adding to the tourism product of the island.
The Area Representative, Honorable Manuel Heredia, who spearheaded the project, has come under fire since the introduction of the concept and to date residents are still not satisfied with the project. That is because $6 million was used for a project that, upon completion, still cannot be used to its full capacity. During the consultation stage, residents pointed out that the $6 million would have been better spent on other projects such as improvement to the health services on the island, for the construction of a desperately needed government school or even for the infrastructure development in the deprived San Mateo Area. Stakeholders also opposed the project because not only would it displace traditional fishermen from one of the only remaining landmarks of historic San Pedro, but the lagoon would be too shallow to accommodate large water taxis.
Now that the project has been completed for almost a year, why isn’t it in full operation? According to Hon. Heredia, two parts of the project are being partially used. One of the two areas is the Water Taxi Terminal. The terminal was to have served local water taxi runs between San Pedro Town and other destinations in Belize as well. But water taxi owners have maintained that the lagoon is too shallow for their large vessels, especially when they are at maximum capacity.
According to Heredia, that section of the project is currently being used to accommodate international boat runs between San Pedro, Ambergris Caye and Chetumal Quintana Roo, Mexico. When asked why the terminal is not being used to its full potential as being planned, Heredia said that a study has been done to look at the depth of the lagoon. “We have delays with the use by the local runs. We just completed a study and I am yet to be briefed. The study is to determine what needs to be done next, but we are working on it. We want to make sure that the best can be made out of the investment that has [already] been done.” Hon Heredia would not go into details, but was asked if the study included the possibility of dynamiting or dredging to accommodate large vessels. He explained that the consultant hired to do the study will look at the changes that are needed to be done for the project to be used in its full capacity.
The other section of the project that has seen criticized is the end result of the Honorable Louis Sylvester Sporting Complex, commonly referred to as the Saca Chispas field. The field, which was constructed on reclaimed lagoon, converts into a stagnant pond of water during rainy season. Heredia said that the inundation of the field will also be addressed. “We know that the Opposition has been criticizing us about the Saca Chispa field. We knew from the beginning that the height would have been insufficient, but there was a contract. The project was completed exactly as what the contract called for. I am hoping that by the end of this month, we will have stock piled sufficient materials, not only to put Saca Chispas to the height that is needed but we want to get started also with the Ambergris Stadium.”
To make matters worse for the Saca Chispas Field, already there are signs of vandalism at the facility. Planks on the fence surrounding the field have been broken or are falling apart. In addition, the bathroom doors and its fixtures have been wrecked and broken apart. Because there is no one supervising the area, in some instances vagabonds utilize the bathroom area to sleep at night.
The $6 million used for the project was a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) which was granted to the Government of Belize. The loan is to be paid from the general revenue generated from the tax payers.
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