Features — 23 October 2012 — by Adele Ramos

US Capital Energy Ltd. held a public meeting at the Parish Hall in Punta Gorda this Saturday morning, at which Allan Herrera of Nextera Environmental and Engineering Consultants and chief drilling expert Juan Carlos were among those present to address questions and concerns from residents of that municipality.

Over a hundred people attended and they mostly supported the opportunity for development in Toledo, Niall Gillett, public relations consultant for US Capital, told Amandala today. Teachers also asked about scholarships and expansion of Internet access, Gillett said.

In rural Toledo, meanwhile, where consultations have been ongoing, the number one appeal has been for jobs, said Gillett.

He said that a subsequent meeting was held on Saturday afternoon in Midway, the last buffer community to be included in exploratory drilling planned for 2013.

According to Gillett, there could be 100 to 150 jobs per oil well. He noted that the current Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is focused on the two drill sites within the Sarstoon-Temash National Park (STNP), and if oil is found, a new EIA would have to be prepared for the production phase of the project.

The public meetings held by the company come days before an official public consultation to be held this Thursday at 5:00 p.m. in the village of Sundaywood, Toledo, to discuss the company’s EIA.

The Department of the Environment, which is supposed to moderate the event, confirmed on Friday that this Thursday’s consultation is still on.

According to the DOE, copies of the EIA may be obtained for perusal from the Punta Gorda Town Library; the chairmen of Sundaywood, Conejo, Barranco, Crique Sarco and Midway Village; the office of the Department of the Environment in Belmopan or the DOE’s website: www.doe.gov.bz.

This Thursday’s EIA session is continuing despite a call from leaders of the villages included in the project zone to delay the process for a month, to give them time to properly study the EIA. The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development has told our newspaper that there had already been a week’s delay and there can be no further delays, because they are legally bound to complete the EIA process within 90 days.

In response to the Government’s decision not to grant the postponement, the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), which co-manages the STNP, called on the Government of Belize last week to reconsider its ‘clenched fist’ policy towards its indigenous peoples, and delay the EIA consultation.

“It is only when citizens are fully and effectively engaged in decisions regarding development projects that will impact their lives, will they make every effort and strive towards alleviating the root cause of poverty,” SATIIM added.

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