BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 30, 2020– In April of this year, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Waterloo Investment Holdings’ proposed expansion of the Port of Belize was submitted to the Department of the Environment (DOE).
This EIA has since been completed and is now awaiting final approval, or denial, by the DOE and the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC).
Public consultation on the project, which is mandated, took place on November 26, 2020.
A panel of consultants and developers involved with the project participated in a Zoom conference hosted by the Department of the Environment. The main developer behind this project, as is well known, is Waterloo Investments Holdings, an Ashcroft company.
This company, Waterloo, also holds the British Caribbean Bank (BCB) as one of its subsidiaries. The BCB is the appointed receiver of the Port of Belize Limited. We’ll get back to that Ashcroft company angle shortly.
Let’s focus on the EIA. The proposed project put forward in the EIA outlines a total upgrade to a new cargo port facility. This will include a new cargo area and a bulk cargo facility.
Additional berthing facilities to accommodate larger cargo ships will also be constructed, and an expansion of the cargo yard, storage sheds, and even silos, is planned.
As previously reported, a cruise terminal will also be constructed. The plan provides for 2 new cruise terminal piers, which would allow shore-side berthing. This just means that cruise passengers will be able to disembark directly off their ships onto land. The berthing facility, which will require a substantial amount of dredging, will be able to berth 4 Oasis-class cruise ships.
A new tourism village with an arrival plaza, retail shops, an open-air market and other amenities are also listed in the plan.
Of note, a new boulevard connecting the main tourist village and the Jane Usher Boulevard will be constructed. This will be done in concert with an upgrade of the Jane Usher Boulevard, which is planned to be reconstructed as a 4-lane paved carriageway with drainage on both sides.
What is being put forward, therefore, is an expansion of the Port of Belize’s cargo port and the creation of a cruise terminal facility, along with a total facelift of parts of the Jane Usher Boulevard area.
What will it take to execute this gargantuan project?
Firstly, a lot of dredging, almost 7.5 million cubic meters worth, to be exact. According to the developers, this dredging is necessary to allow large cargo vessels and the Oasis-class ships to enter and navigate the access channel and turning basin.
The 7.5 km access channel will be deepened to 12 meters and expanded to 190 meters wide. The turning basin will be 550 meters wide and 12 meters deep.
Alan Herrera, Principal Consultant on the project, from Nextera Environmental and Engineering Consultants, said that the dredging is taking into consideration the possibility of larger vessels having to utilize the facility at a future date. The berthing pockets for the 2 piers will have a depth of 12 meters.
A major environmental concern is the amount of waste material that will be generated from the dredging activities. Of the 7.5 million cubic meters, about 2.5 million will be used as landfill to reclaim the area that will be used for the cruise terminal.
About 5 million cubic meters of waste material is planned to be dumped at sea, in the open water, between the Turneffe Atolls and the Belize Barrier Reef.
While the consultants stress that enough scientific study has been done to ensure minimal to no environmental impact from the placement of this unused material, local NGOs and environmental groups are not convinced, and they are up in arms.
Lisa Carne, the founder of Fragments of Hope, an environmental trailblazer involved in the development of man-made coral nurseries, pointed out that the NGO community has not given this project its blessing, and many are still concerned about the impact the placement of dredged material will have on our barrier reef and marine life.
In responding to her assertions, Herrera pointed to the consultations with the NGO community, saying that their meetings have been “fruitful and positive,” but without explicitly saying that those NGOs have come forward to support this project.
But on Friday, 9 members of the NGO community signed on to a letter of objection, rejecting the proposed project, and addressed it to Prime Minister John Briceño.
The NGOs stated in that letter, “We, the undersigned, hereby formally and in the strongest possible terms share our objections to Port of Belize Cruise and Cargo Expansion project as presented by its consultants and via the material posted on the Department of Environment’s website.”
While there are several overarching environmental concerns, the NGOs zeroed in on a particular concern — ocean dumping, and declared in the letter, “we highlight that no adequate rationale has been provided that justifies that ocean dumping should ever be considered for Belize. Responsible management mandates that every effort be made to prevent adverse effects on navigation, scientific study, fishing as well as the economic, recreational and aesthetic values of our world-renowned resources.
“We therefore strongly recommend that the Government of Belize immediately reject this aspect of the proposal and require that the developers abandon the ocean dumping proposal forthwith.”
Prime Minister Briceno, in a written reply, responded, “I take your concerns raised seriously and will share your letter with the appropriate Ministries\Ministers. I assure you that as far as this present government is concerned, no project has been approved. All projects must go its entire process before it can even get to Cabinet for consideration.”
The Prime Minister said that the DOE and NEAC must first give approval before Cabinet can sign off on the project.
The position of the NGOs, apart from their insistence that the dumping is dangerous to our reefs and waters, and should not be considered, is that an independent consultant must be hired to prepare a comprehensive cruise port strategy.
In an interview with Amandala, Senator Osmany Salas from the Belize Network of NGOs said, “The NGO network does not have a consolidated position at this time; however, several of our members do. They have written to the Government. But more than likely, we will have a position later this week.”
On a different note, the project is also expected to have a significant and positive economic impact for the Port Loyola area and the southside of Belize City generally – a much-needed injection of finance into our economy amid the fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new facility should also provide about 150 jobs in the construction phase and nearly 400 additional jobs once the new facilities begin to operate. Additionally, with the berthing ports, more cruise visitors will be able to enter the country, since the process of tendering from a ship out at sea to our land ports will be done away with.
If this expansion is approved and executed, passengers will step off their individual cruise ships unto mainland Belize.
Waterloo projects an average of 20,570 passengers a day, and a daily revenue injection of between USD$500,000 and $750,000, which will result in a much-needed spike in our foreign exchange earnings.
The new cargo facilities are also expected to increase the country’s capacity for imports and exports. Larger vessels mean more products imported and exported, and stakeholders in the agricultural sector can also utilize silos to store their produce.
While we’re on the topic of money, the question is, who stands to benefit from this massive infrastructural expansion of the Port of Belize Limited? Yes, the citizens of southside Belize City and the Government of Belize should naturally see a trickling of revenue from the increased activity at the Port of Belize, but where does Ashcroft’s Waterloo stand?
The Port of Belize Limited is expected to see a considerable increase in activity and, consequently, an increase in revenue. Almost 200 million dollars is budgeted by Waterloo Investment Holding for the execution of this expansion; they are projecting a bounce-back in the cruise industry by the time the project is completed.
This is all projected to result in sizable profits for Lord Michael Ashcroft’s business interests.
If this project is approved by the DOE and the NEAC, it will be the second of Ashcroft’s major investment plans pushed through just weeks following the general elections and change of administration.
It is widely known that the Dean Barrow administration played hardball with Lord Ashcroft by publicly opposing both the Scotia Bank acquisition and this proposed expansion of the Port of Belize.