Caye Chapel beach creation project starts without EIA

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Recent reports of a beach project on Caye Chapel has raised concerns among government officials and the tourism sector, as it has started without the benefit of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Caye Chapel is an exclusive property being touted as on its way to becoming a world-class golf course. It has been revealed that developers are planning to create a beach area measuring 985 feet long by 98 feet wide, along with a beach club and a sales center. Stakeholders’ main concern is that the project was given clearance by the Department of Environment (DOE), ignoring the Supreme Court’s guidelines when handling these types of projects.
On Wednesday, February 8th The San Pedro Sun headed to the island, after receiving reports of dredging activities. No dredging was observed around the island; however, works for the expansion of the beach were in full gear. Heavy machinery was observed near the proposed section of the island that will see the creation of a new beach.
The news of the project was actually revealed during a Senate meeting on Monday, January 30th in Belmopan City, when People’s United Party (PUP) Senator Valerie Woods raised the question about the development on the island. “The project has been given the green light when an EIA process really has not even been vetted,” said Woods. “I am concerned, as are so many others, when things like this happen. It defies the very integrity and intent of the good laws we have on the books.” Woods referred to the mandates of the Supreme Court when it comes to projects of this type. According to her, the guidelines set by Belize’s highest court clearly indicate that before any clearance is given to a development, proper consultations with the public must take place. At the same time, educational information regarding the project must be well distributed among the population and the reviewing of the EIA must not be limited to just environmental issues.
“It is to respect a process, to ensure that any development, particularly the bigger ones, are done at all times in the best interest of Belize,” said Woods. She argued the need to take into consideration the input of not just the developer and members of the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC), but to also allow members of the NEAC the opportunity to consult with the communities and other regulatory bodies about the works.
The disclosure of the project took Senator Godwin Hulse of the ruling party, United Democratic Party (UDP), by surprise as well. Hulse, the Senator for Government Business and the Chairman of the Cabinet Sub-committee on Investment said that he had no knowledge of the approval and promised to check into it. “The purpose of this committee is to look at all the big investments coming to the country,” said Hulse. “At the time when it was formed back in 2012, we thought that the only requirement for the approval of projects was only environmental, but now we focus if the investments provide returns to the country, bring foreign exchange, creates meaningful employment, and to protect the environment and cultural identity of this country.” Hulse indicated that this criteria also applies for the development at Caye Chapel.
The Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) has also shared its concerns regarding the development at Caye Chapel. Executive Director of the BTIA John Burgos thinks that supplemental data about the specific area of the development needs to be compiled before any works begin. “We are very concerned about what is happening in Caye Chapel. The main worry is the negative impacts on the surrounding marine ecosystem,” said Burgos. “The Government approves projects of large scale without a proper EIA and public consultation. We need to know the details of the project.” It is also believed that any dredging activity in the area will impact the fisher folk and at a minimum, they should be asked for their input.
Attempts to reach Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria have been fruitless. However, on Wednesday, February 8th, the media caught up with Omar Figueroa, Minister of State in Environment who explained a bit of what is happening at Caye Chapel. “The entire project still requires an EIA to be completed,” said Figueroa. “What is happening is that this is a major investment and the investors want to do a pilot project within the investment.” In his brief explanation, Figueroa indicated that the EIA will apply to the larger project which he expects to be ready in the next six to eight months.
However, local authorities in the tourism sector believe that no approval should have been granted without an EIA, even if it was for a portion of the project.

Caye Chapel was acquired by a Mexican group of hoteliers in December of 2014. At the time of the acquisition, the new owners announced a mega project to upgrade the island’s facilities with a proposed investment of $250 million dollars. The project has remained in its conceptual phase for the past two years, pending the necessary clearances for its construction to begin.
The San Pedro Sun will continue following this story and updating as more information becomes available.

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