Unauthorized large-scale dredging halted; workers arrested and equipment confiscated

Saturday, September 26th, 2020


The unauthorized dredging operations off the west coast of the island and within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR) were halted on Friday, September 25th by an enforcement team consisting of the local police department, Fisheries Department and the reserve’s management. A number of persons working on the site were arrested by police and equipment was confiscated as well. The San Pedro Sun was informed that a thorough investigation will take place to further understand why this project continued operating illegally and the extent of damages caused to the area.

The HCMR had been trying to stop this illegal project for months as soon as they found out that it had no permits from relevant authorities such as the Mining Unit, and the Department of Environment. Reports were filed, developer/s were served with verbal and formal Cessation Orders, but the project continued. 

The management team at Hol Chan shared with The San Pedro Sun that on Friday they approached the issue in a synchronized manner involving other enforcement agencies. They visited the area along with police officers and members from the Fisheries Department. They issued a Cease and Desist Order, and arrested employees that were on duty. In previous images shared, a large excavator could be observed on the construction site, when enforcement descended on Friday, this machine was gone. According to reports from witnesses, it was removed from the site early on Thursday September 24th. Authorities, however, managed to confiscate a floating pump used for dredging, and then secured the area to prevent any continuation of the works until additional enforcement arrives from the mainland to start an investigation.

First attempts to stop the unauthorized project

The development has received verbal stop orders from the Fisheries Department prosecutor, and a formal Cessation Order dated November 6, 2019, from the Mining Unit. This directive was addressed to a Steve Parrish, stating, ‘You and/or your agents are hereby advised that if extraction is currently taking place outside of a valid mineral right adjacent to parcels 8980 and 8981; to cease all extractive activities until these extractions are normalized through the settlement of fines and subsequent issuance of a Mineral Right. Likewise, you and/or your agents are hereby instructed to contact this office no later than November 20, 2019, to start the process of normalization.’ The Cessation Order was to come in to effect upon receipt, and failure to comply with it would result in the further administering of charges. 

At that time, the Mining Unit was contacted for a follow-up, but they briefly stated that an investigation was taking place and could not further comment on the issue. The absence of tougher enforcement apparently led the construction site’s expansion to balloon over the past months. The construction site is also believed to lack an Environmental Clearance Plan from the Department of Environment (DOE). The San Pedro Sun checked with DOE, who could not confirm if any such clearance had been given to this project.

As of press time, operations at the construction have stopped and the next step to follow is a research of the project’s managers and its impact in the area. The team at HCMR stated that all relevant authorities (Mining Unit, Fisheries, along with Department of Environment) will be on board to deal with this environmental issue swiftly and in a coherent manner. 

We will provide an update as this story continues to develop.


 

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