Saturday, July 13, 2024

Cayo Rosario Developers must comply with Environmental Compliance Plan


Residents of Ambergris Caye are greatly concerned at reports alleging the approval of a tourism development on Cayo Rosario, located off the northern-western coast of Ambergris Caye within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Zone IV: Cayo Rosario Conservation Zone. The Environmental Impact Assessment was given the green light by the Department of Environment (DOE) in December of 2017, while the National Environmental Appraisal Council (NEAC) is yet to weigh in on the first draft of the project’s Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) which comes with specific stipulations demanding changes in the construction design. Some of the changes include a reduction of over-the-water structures and allowing access to fishing in the area to name a few. This initial draft will be discussed next week by NEAC, and once it is finalized the developers will then be required to sign it before they can start the project.
According to a member of NEAC, no further details can be provided about this first draft of the ECP as there is more to discuss regarding the project. The proposed tourism venture at the 10-acre privately owned island had previously called for the construction of 80% of the project off the island, which included 90 reef bungalows expanding three acres into the sea. According to NEAC, the ECP reduces that number to 40 and will be situated atop two piers at the southern end of Cayo Rosario. The rest of the development will then take place on the island itself. The ECP further states that each structure will be 500 square feet in size and that fishermen who have been frequenting the area should be given unimpeded access to the area around the island. The developer is also required to pay a higher monitoring fee as it will be expensive for the DOE to oversee the project. Many islanders are contesting the idea of over-the-water structures arguing that it is a violation of the ‘Queens Land’ regulation which stipulates that all land up to 66 feet from the high water level is considered national land. Opponents of the project have stated that if the developers want to develop the island they should build everything on the island and not over the water. “They do not own the seabed, so they should not be building over the water,” said a concerned islander. “This project is obviously too big for this tiny island, that is why they want to use our national land. Build on your land, not on what you do not own.” The other factor of rejection by island residents is that Cayo Rosario harbors a sensitive marine habitat which supports the livelihood of many who are in the fly fishing industry, while the island itself is considered a haven for several bird species. These include Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egrets, and White Ibis among other native and migrant birds.
The idea of overwater structures has never been popular on Ambergris Caye, but apparently, Cayo Rosario will count with the unwelcomed design. Over the water, structures are permitted based on a set of guidelines issued by the DOE in 2010. Their National Environmental Guidelines for Over the Water Structures document states this regulation applies to any structure suitable for use as a restaurant, bar, dive shop or dwelling especially for commercial purposes and the enjoyment by tourists, which extends in any part beyond the shoreline of any public water or publicly-owned water body and includes pontoons and floaters. These structures have been proposed primarily for tourism purposes in the coastal areas such as the offshore cayes, riverbanks, and lagoons. In a section of the Guideline Document, pertaining to site location, it recommends that construction of over the water structure should preferably be carried out on the leeward side of an island, like in the case of Cayo Rosario. Additionally, the location of an overwater structure must not conflict with zoning objectives, Management Plans, or other management measures within a zoned area. Considering the fact that Cayo Rosario is located within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Zone IV titled “Cayo Rosario Conservation Zone”, residents question the legality of the decision to approve the development.
The development will count with its own power via generators for now, but the developer may appeal for underwater power cables to get electricity from San Pedro Town in the future. This would entail approval from Belize Electricity Limited, DOE and other agencies to install submarine pipes between Cayo Rosario and the mainland of Ambergris Caye.
Once managed by the Belize Audubon Society, Cayo Rosario has been regarded as a national property worthy of protecting. The Government of Belize allegedly gave it to developer Dave Mitchell as compensation after a property he purchased behind Caye Caulker was erroneously sold. It is reported that Mitchell was given parcels of land on Ambergris Caye and Cayo Rosario in exchange for the property he lost. Then in 2015, a group of investors acquired the island from Mitchell. Among the investors was John Turley, who was a broker for the said island. Turley and a business partner, Daniel Kalenov out of San Diego California, USA, are now in charge of the development and had been seeking investors.
Both Turley and Kalenov were identified as managing members of a company called Global Diversified Partners and Cayo Rosario Partners Limited Liability Company. Millions of dollars have allegedly been raised in the past for several real estate projects across the USA and Belize. However, in September of 2015 when both men were presented with a Cease and Desist order in Denver, Colorado USA. The investigation carried by the Colorado Securities Division against Global Diversified Partners was for the sale of unregistered securities in the state of Colorado. The firm had not even registered any securities offerings in the said state. All was unveiled when complaints were made to the Division of Security that Global Diversified Partners was inviting potential investors to educational events in Denver. At the event, the duo was pitching investment opportunities in Belize and was attempting to obtain investments through seminars. According to the local authorities, the way the company was operating was in violation of the Colorado Securities Act. Kalenov and Turley agreed to the cease and desist order and complied with the immediate order to stop offering unregistered, non-exempt investments in the state of Colorado.
In the upcoming weeks when the ECP is finalized, the developers will have the final word if they accept or appeal it.

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