Islanders say No to Cayo Rosario Development
Thursday, April 6th, 2017
Island residents strongly rejected the idea of a proposed tourism development at Cayo Rosario during the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) presentation on Wednesday, April 5th at the San Pedro’s Lions Den. Cayo Rosario, a 10-acre privately owned island, densely packed with mangroves on the leeward coast of northern Ambergris Caye, is part of the finalized expansion of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Investors intend to develop a project that will include over-the-water structures and will accommodate up to 600 guests.
The Cayo Rosario project is being carried out by a group of investors who acquired the island in 2015 from one David Mitchell. Among the investors is John Turley, who was the previous listing broker for the property, and was conspicuously absent from the consultation. The project went under the radar for quite some time, until the announcement of a public meeting was announced for October 27, 2016. However, that initial consultation was abruptly cancelled, with investors claiming that “adjustments to the plan needed to be made.” In an interview with The San Pedro Sun in November of 2016, Turley stated that the primary concern was how to minimize any environmental impact. “We have realized that some of the decisions we make will be more costly from a financial perspective, but if it yields a better product, and minimizes impact on the environment, then that’s what we are in favour of,” he said.
However, during the meeting on Wednesday, the audience saw little commitment to the environment after it was disclosed that they intend to construct 80% of the project off of the island by building over-the-water structures. The proposed development claims that building 20% of the infrastructure on the island is their only financially viable option. It was an idea that was soundly rejected by those in attendance.
The full-house meeting saw a group of construction workers eager for work, and many concerned residents and tourism stakeholders who opposed the idea of the construction on the caye. The event, which started at 6:30PM, had George Myvette and Alfonso Avilez from the Tunich-Nah Consultancy Agency presenting their findings about the viability of the project. Myvette began his presentation based on the fauna and species inhabiting the island. According to him, the waters around Cayo Rosario are not pristine or biologically diverse, pointing out that only nine species of fish were found in the area. “We did some tests around the waters of the island and there was not much visible life and little presence of sea grass,” said Myvette. He explained that the information was based on his two visits to Cayo Rosario, and the audience strongly disputed his statements. One fisherman, who has been working the waters for over 30 years explained how in his decades of fishing, there have been days when there are no fish in the area, and other days when they are overwhelmingly abundant.
Myvette then switched subjects and spoke about the environmental impact of the project. “One of the major impacts that the project will have is the removal of vegetation. However we have recommended to contain at least 25% of the all vegetation on the island, which will comprise of littoral forest and mangroves,” explained Myvette. “The solution here will be the introduction of a landscaping design that will replant some of the native plant species that will serve as dwellings for birds who live on the island,” he said.
Cayo Rosario has always been considered a bird caye, home to Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, White Ibis and other migrant birds. Attendees brought up the allegations of people being paid to destroy bird nests and eggs on the island prior to habitat inspections. Presenters were challenged to name the specific birds found on the island, however, they could not respond.
Myvette claimed that the over-the-water structures would help to attract marine life, stating it is a positive move. While many people in the audience applauded the idea that over-the-water structures attract marine life, they still opposed the actual design: two separate wing-like dock extensions that house 90 reef bungalows and expand a total of three acres off the caye.
Avilez spoke about the engineering aspect of the project, explaining that the development will count with its own power and water source. The plan is to use a submarine pipe route between the northern coast of Ambergris Caye (in an area known as Ambergris Bay subdivision), where generators will be stationed to provide power to the over the water bungalows, 12 mangrove bungalows, 15 hotel villas, one welcome centre, one spa, one dive shop, and one island club. “There will be three cables with pipes connecting the island with the mainland of Ambergris Caye. Two of those lines will bring in potable water and one will deliver communication and electricity,” he said. According to Avilez, the water for the Cayo Rosario will come from surface water and will be treated with reverse osmosis before being used for consumption. “We have a plan for the black water, or waste water. It will be recycled and used for irrigation,” said Avilez. He reiterated that the development is as environmentally friendly as possible and solid waste will also be recycled, particularly organic matter that will be used as fertilizer. “Only about 10% of our entire waste product will be shipped off of Ambergris Caye to the mainland,” he said. Avilez also mentioned that if the project is approved, it will generate up to 300 hundred jobs during peak season and around $26 million dollars in tax revenue within five years.
However, the audience was not convinced, and demanded the removal of the over-the-water structures from the plans. Tour guides and fisher folk defended the fact that the waters near Cayo Rosario are fly fishing flats which provide many islanders with their daily bread and butter. During the question and answer session, many attendees expressed their disapproval of the development, highlighting that the project should only be built on the caye, not on the surrounding waters. Concerned residents emphasised that the developers of the project must acknowledge that in Belize, all land up to 66 feet from the high water level is considered national land or “Queen’s Land”. This also means that it is to be kept accessible to the public and free from development. Therefore, occupation of the underwater land without permission constitutes as an offense of unlawful use of national land. “We are not against development, but we cannot agree with this type of project, which threatens our livelihood and our marine environment,” said one concerned islander. “You are not allowed to build over the water because that is not your land, build on the island, which is your property.” They categorically condemned the project, making clear that Belize is a special place for natural tourism. The idea of having hotel developments over the water, at the expense of the environment, was met with bitter sentiment by the majority in attendance.
The frustration of the residents was strongly evident as they waited in line for their turn to give their opinions. One resident questioned the developers’ insistence in bringing such designs of over-the-water structures for their approval. “Stop disrespecting us with such ideas. You bought an island; build ON your island.”
As the back and forth discussion became heated, attendees called for John Turley, saying they had questions for him. They also called on another investor believed to be behind the development: Daniel Kalenov, questioning both their track records when it comes to developments. Both Turley and Kalenov are managing members in a foreign company called Global Diversified Partners and Cayo Rosario Partners Limited Liability Company. Kalenov in particular has raised millions of dollars in the past for several real estate projects in California, the mid-west area of the USA and Belize. On September 17, 2015, controversy arose 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 company, headquartered in San Diego, California and registered in the state of Wyoming USA, was used to raise funds for real estate projects. However, it was not licensed 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 attempting to obtain investments through those 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. Turley and Kalenova claim to have moved forward and hope to make things right at Cayo Rosaio.
Notably absent at the consultation were members of the local government and the Area Representative and Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr. Attendees claimed it was irresponsible of them not to be present, supporting the residents against such a questionable development that threatens Belize’s prime income source, eco- tourism. “You are bringing the wrong type of investment to our country.” One gentleman reminded the audience that even though it sounds like an expansion in tourism in Belize, and the big picture of bringing so much jobs and revenue… at the end of the day, it will all re-route back to the origin of the investment. It was clearly pointed out that the only beneficiaries of the development will be the investors who will take the revenues out of the country, back to Wyoming where the managing company of the project is registered.
If the development were to go through, fishing guides claim that an entire multi-million dollar industry could be at stake. The waters surrounding Cayo Rosario have been used by traditional fishers as well as fly-fishermen in the sports fishing industry. As such, beyond damaging the delicate habitat, the development could irreparably damage the livelihood of locals who have been making their living from the resources surrounding the island for generations. As one commentator said, “The sport fishing industry here is a multi-million dollar industry. Not only does it employee the fishing guides, which in turn supports their families, but these fishing guests stay at our hotels, they eat at our restaurants…they put a lot of money back into our economy.”
This is not the first time a development like this has been proposed in the area. In January 2016 the San Pedro community attended an EIA public consultation for actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s Blackadore Caye project. Plans included similar over-the-water structures, which met local resistance as well. In October 2016, the project developers issued a press release stating, “After a six month process of gathering feedback from stakeholders and local citizens, we received overwhelming support for the project – recognizing its social benefits, impact on the economy and environmental integrity. Despite approval for overwater structures [from the DOE], we have listened to the concerns of local stakeholders and there will be no overwater structures for rent or sale in the final development. This decision is to further ensure our commitment to the ecological preservation of Belize.” Residents are hopeful that the Cayo Rosario development will rethink their position on the proposed design as well.
The EIA will be discussed at a meeting on April 20, 2017 in the City of Belmopan by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee. Deadline for comments to the DOE is April 19th and can be submitted by mail to: Chief Environmental Officer, The Department of Environment, Market Square, Belmopan City or emailed to [email protected]
There was no indication if there will be a second consultation on the project, following the negative feedback of the meeting on Wednesday. The EIA can be reviewed in its entirety at http://doe.gov.bz/index.php/services/publications/send/15-eia/603-cayo-rosario-eia-final-march-20
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