International Regional — 03 September 2012 — by Adele Ramos
Green Tropics gets green light

The company needs to submit a revised EIA and seek proper clearance before continuing any on-the-ground works

Damage assessment for dredging that severed Laboring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary still pendingDamage assessment for dredging that severed Laboring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary still pending

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 29, 2012

Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria has confirmed to Amandala that the Government of Belize has reached an out-of-court settlement with Green Tropics, a company owned by interests in Spain and represented by Guatemalan Antonio Zelaya, for them to pay, by the end of this week, the equivalent of the maximum allowable fine—$100,000—for proceeding with land clearings and dredging for a multi-million-dollar sugar development project in the Castille area of Cayo, notwithstanding the fact that the project didn’t have environmental clearance.

Back in June, the project was the subject of major controversy, because of complaints by concerned members of the public, and especially researchers at the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) of the University of Belize, that in initiating those unauthorized works, the company had dredged a canal of approximately 2 miles long with 4 excavators on public lands, severing the Laboring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary, which was granted protected status in late 2010.

The Department of the Environment (DOE) moved swiftly to issue a stop order against the company, signaling that everything would be put on pause until the matter could be properly addressed. This week, the DOE announced that the stop order has been lifted.

According to Alegria, whereas the company had agreed to pay an out-of-court settlement from the outset, the matter had to be referred to the Ministry of Forestry, which had been in consultation with Cabinet on the matter. The Ministry has now approved the out-of-court settlement.

Alegria said that in those cases where court proceedings are not pursued, they usually recommend the maximum, because they don’t want out-of-court settlements to be an incentive for breaking the law. Cabinet has supported the decision to send a signal against such activities that violate the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) by applying the maximum allowable fine.

Alegria told us that apart from the company paying the settlement of $100,000, the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will need to be revised to address a list of concerns that have already been raised by persons who have perused the first one filed in June.

One major area that needs to be more properly addressed, he said, is flood mitigation. Another is the proper treatment of wastewater before it is returned to the natural ecosystem—in this case, the Belize River, which feeds so many communities downstream from the project site. Another water management concern is whether the company can put in place the right mechanisms to ensure that they don’t divert too much water from the river during the dry season, causing a shortage for human consumption.

In addition to addressing the EIA issues, the company is also expected to pay for reparation works to offset the damages it has caused due to the initial works back in June. There is also the matter of violations of the National Park Systems Act, for unauthorized works inside a declared protected area, to be settled.

A damage assessment is being undertaken by the Forest Department, and Alegria said that it is possible that the damage assessment report would be finished by the time the National Environmental Appraisal Council is ready to review the revised version of Green Tropics’ EIA in the next two to three weeks. He said that the Forest Department is also getting legal advice from the Solicitor-General before deciding how to proceed.

The lifting of the stop order merely means that the company can now proceed with seeking the proper environmental clearance—not that it can now continue on-the-ground works.

Meanwhile, NEAC’s decision on the EIA submitted by Boiton Minerals, also in June, for expanded gold mining operations in Cayo is expected to be announced by the end of the week.

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