Belize City, Thurs. Sept. 23, 2021– A second round of consultations was held on Thursday of last week to address a raft of concerns being voiced by members of the public, several NGOs, and even the Belize Water Services Ltd. about the potential environmental impact of the proposed Waterloo project, which would involve the expansion of the facilities at the Port of Belize Ltd. and the construction of a cruise ship terminal at that location. At the request of the National Environmental Assessment Committee (NEAC), the Port of Belize Ltd. hosted the discussion following a submission of an addendum to their original environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) which they believe proposes a safer alternative to the original plan they had for the disposal of mass amounts of material that would be unearthed during their dredging operation.
During the presentation of the project and the addendum to the original ESIA, Nextera Environmental and Engineering Consultancy’s Allan Herrera outlined various amenities, structures and facilities that would be created as a result of the project. These include “parking/overland transport logistics areas, charter boat areas, an administration building, a cruise activity and operations center, a new landscaped boulevard connecting from the main tourism village to Jane Usher Boulevard, a separate road entry for tourism village and the cargo area, an upgrade of the Jane Usher Boulevard into a paved dual carriageway with improved drainage and supporting structures and amenities and auxiliary facilities.”
Many of those in attendance, however, were envisioning, not the picturesque layout that Herrera tried to depict, but the potential marring of the entire area as a result of the environmental disruptions possibly to be caused by the large-scale dredging that would have to be done in the area. Those harboring concerns included a number of residents of the Jane Usher and Port Loyola areas. Their concerns had been expressed in the first round of public consultations and once again surfaced during the question and answer portion of the session. Dionne Chamberlain from the Chamberlain Consulting Group attempted to address some of those concerns and told the residents that “when improvement to a great infrastructural project like this occurs, it automatically improves your property values”. She also indicated that jobs would be created and that the project would “create a lot of infrastructure, with the Jane Usher Boulevard being paved all the way through to the highway.” She also said that “Nobody in Port Loyola will be asked to give up any land.” “In fact, all of the land, even the one that the BWS is running through belongs to the Port of Belize Limited, and so they’re all private land. We have enough land and enough investment capital to put this project on the ground immediately,” she further said.
The consultants also attempted to allay the concerns outlined by the Belize Water Services Limited, which has publicly stated that the offshore dumping of dredged material associated with the project would affect their natural mangrove water treatment ponds. Allan Herrera, in his presentation, claimed, by pointing to a diagram prepared by his company, that “during the placement of the material there will be no chance that any sediments will be able to leave that area because of the geotextile membrane and the silk curtain that will be encasing that whole area…. In addition… the Port Area itself, the piers and the docking area and the commercial areas, those will consume the better portion of the dredge spills. It is only the portion that cannot find use commercially or for construction that will need to be disposed within the near-shore areas.”
Despite those assurances, several high-profile members of the public who tuned in virtually, mentioned some of the effects that the project could have on Belize’s marine ecosystems. The president of the Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations of Belize (FECTAB), Mr. Tom Greenwood, raised the issue that the soil that will be dumped during the project could be contaminated and went as far as to ask the consultants not to “insult the intelligence of the Belizean people.”
In response, consultant Luis Muñoz from Piedroba Consulting Group tried to assure those in attendance that “there is no such contaminant present in the soil that will be dredged as a part of this project”. He asserted that “all of the soil that will be dredged as a part of this project is virgin material”.
Vice President of Oceana in Belize, Janelle Chanona, also got into a debate with Muñoz over whether the dredged material would be detrimental to Belize’s marine resources. Further, Chanona questioned whether those involved in the project gave consideration to the fact that the offshore dumping will be done in the Caribbean Sea.
Muñoz replied, “I first take objection to it being referred to as an offshore area…. This is a part of the Belize City lagoon.”
Allan Herrera then chimed in to confirm that given that Belize only has links to one sea, the Caribbean Sea, it is indisputable that dumping will occur in the Caribbean Sea.
At the start of the consultations, the head table went through a detailed presentation of the stages of the project. The consultants said that the project has not been environmentally cleared as yet, pending the green light from the NEAC and the Department of the Environment (DOE). Luis Muñoz confirmed that the project would not proceed with any construction activities prior to receiving approval from GoB.