Last night, at the San Pedro High School, the Belize Department of the Environment held the 2nd Environmental Impact Assessment Public meeting for the proposed project at Blackadore Caye, Belize.
June 26, 2016: Two additions have been made. 1. A rendering provided of the new Blackadore Plan and 2. A memo from the Government of Belize regarding public vs private rights to water and beach.
Blackadore Caye (just a quick refresh) is the long slender (beautiful) sandbar that is located west of Ambergris, almost exactly between the us and the mainland. It was added, just earlier this year, to the Hol Chan National Marine Reserve as a conservation zone. You can see it below as Zone V (land is in lavender).
And you can see it here in lots of photos that I took in May – gorgeous and seriously barren. A sand bar covered in grass and crabs.
Leonardo DiCaprio and investors purchased the island in 2007. Just this last year, after numerous rumors of a Four Seasons Resort, a development plan was announced at a January meeting with the public in San Pedro.
The question and answer portion of that meeting became quite heated around the issue of over-the-water structures and the restricted use, by sport and commercial fishermen, of the flats around the caye.
Would they be run off if Beyonce was visiting?
Afterwards, the Blackadore team set out to meet with the public (the “stakeholders”) and to re-work their plan to take into account the concerns.
Between, Jan and August of 2016, the developers, engineers and scientists met with as many as 5,000 members of the public (over 60% of them in San Pedro) and came back with a amended plan and a new presentation.
Last night’s presentation was BY FAR the most comprehensive, thoughtful and impressive plan I’ve seen presented.
The new rendering of the plan.
- The fishing grounds around the caye were mapped out and monitored for use by fishermen. In the new plan, the two docks will now be placed over, what they deem to be, low impact areas (sparsely populated by wildlife including algae and grasses).
- They will put $400mm BZD into this project over the next 20 years, provide 400 construction jobs and up to 1000 permanent jobs for Belizeans from entry level to technical jobs (with training) and management positions
- They will NOT have Blackadore tour guides but will hire shops from Ambergris Caye as necessary.
- There will be an education center open to the public on the arrival jetty
- They are going to incredible measures (and expense) to make this project a model of sustainable development for the world. They are going to do construction in phases so that species can move (or be moved…plants by a “fauna specialist”) and adapt, they will minimize dredging (and corral sediment with curtains and baffles) and use existing sugar barge channels to move building supplies, they will prefabricate as much as possible on the mainland, they will source all the materials they can from Belize (looking for “green” and sustainable partners) – from lumber to gravel to cement. They will use solar energy, composting toilets – there will be no waste water, they will recycle or ban plastics – in fact, they want zero waste overall. They even considered noise and aesthetic pollution (I didn’t know there was such a thing)
Those were my main takeaways from the presentation. Things got a lot more detailed (and quite a bit more heated) during the question and answer portion.
There were a handful of tour guides and fly fishermen who spoke and they were quite clear about their objective – NO OVER THE WATER STRUCTURES. None. The caye is yours, your project sounds great, but do not build over our waters. ESPECIALLY in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. It is illegal.
And will set a bad precedent for other developers.
Here is a press release from the government regarding the Belizean peoples’ right to the seabed and the beachfront released early this year – “Queen’s Land” – from the Minstry of Natural Resources and Immigration (strange combo?).
You can see their point.
The Blackadore team, later joined by the Mayor of San Pedro, Danny Guerrero and the Minister of Tourism and Area Representative, Manuel Heredia, fired back.
- Protected areas do not mean preservation. The government was aware that this caye (and others) were private land when they expanded Hol Chan…they knew that at some point there would be development. This is the best case scenario.
- The new over-the-water plan has been minimized but to be economically viable, they stressed, they need these structures. They are spending exponentially more than any other construction project this country has ever seen – to minimize harm, to better the island (prevent erosion and renew plant life) and to make the entire project environmentally sound
- We must weigh the value of Blackadore as a flyfishing area vs. the economic needs of an entire country
The ultimate point was that there needs to be a BALANCE – positive vs. negative for the people of San Pedro and for all of Belize. Unemployment in Belize is over 29% and for women and youth, it’s about 35%. This is the biggest project that Belize has ever seen – 1000 jobs at the peak. We can’t just think of ourselves.
While all resorts on Ambergris Caye have harmed our island (Heredia), this plan is looking to better Blackadore Caye.
The mayor argued that this is not just about flyfishing, we need to look at the bigger picture and perhaps “clean up OUR act”. Ambergris Caye has enough of her own issues: traffic, trash, over-building, erosion. Perhaps we should focus there first.
Maybe, he suggested somewhat jokingly, we shouldn’t rebuild any over-the-water structures like bars and dive shops here on Ambergris Caye.
My opinion? This is arguably the best (and largest) investment opportunity the country has ever seen. I do understand that this is in a reserve – but as was mention by Minister Heredia, they knew that when they expanded Hol Chan. And they always expected development.
A tour guide brought up an important point – an old Belizean saying “if snake bite wen you see lizard you run”. If you’ve been bitten by a snake, when you see a lizard you are going to run.
Basically, we don’t trust outside developers on this island for good reason. We have been burned by half-done, half-ass constructions in the past. Some boiled down to blatant ponzi schemes.
One only needs to take a ride across the lagoon from San Pedro town to see many crumbling messes. These “investors” came to make money…only. They didn’t care at all about Belize, the people or the environment.
Yes, Blackadore needs to make economic sense but they are also planning something that will be an example to the world…and certainly put Belize (and their project) in the spot light for years to come. I think when you look at balance, the positives here far outweigh the negatives.
In an ideal world, there would be no over-the-water structures but they have already amended their plan to reduce the footprint. They are working hard to show that they are willing to work with the community.
As for setting a precedent, we can only hope that the next developers will be half this conscientious about our environment. Hopefully this raises our standards. This is, to me, as good as it gets. And hopefully, we can integrate some of their finds on Ambergris Caye. We could use help with things like erosion, waste treatment and recycling.
But all of this DOES make me wonder, why did the government approve the Hol Chan expansion if they knew this was coming down the pike?
I’ll leave it to my buddy Teddy Roosevelt to summarize way better than I could. Dramatic, I know, but true:
“The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”
Here is the list of EIAs including the new Blackadore plan and also one for a waste treatment plant for North Ambergris Caye – that also appears to be in the Marine Reserve.
The final decision will be made on August 31st – you can ask any questions or add any comments at any time to: [email protected]