BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 17, 2022
Last Friday night another public consultation was held with members of the community, the Department of the Environment (DOE), and the developers of Waterloo’s proposed Cruise Tourism Facility and Cargo Expansion project at the Caribbean Motors compound, which is located at Mile 3 ½ on the Philip Goldson Highway. This public consultation had been initially postponed due to the landfall of Hurricane Lisa. The focus of the meeting was the developers’ responses to two questions posed by DOE, one concerning the use of geotextiles and the other concerning the potential impact of the project on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Belize Barrier Reef.
The project’s development plans require a deepening and widening of the access channel and turning basin at the Port of Belize facility to cater to large vessels, and for this to be achieved the developers would dredge 7.5 million cubic meters of material from the coastal area near the Port of Belize, and the developers’ latest proposal indicates that they would place that dredged material in a shoreside brownfield area, near the Jane Usher community, and nearshore, in an area to be cordoned off by geotextiles to contain the dredged material near the port’s compound.
The environmental community, however, has questioned the efficacy of the use of the method to prevent any spillover that could potentially affect the marine ecosystem and ultimately the reef.
At the public consultation session, Allan Herrera of NEXTERA attempted to provide reassurance by stating that the company that has been hired to carry out the dredging, Jan De Nul, has done similar work worldwide. “Jan De Nul has extensive experience in using geotextiles in the various fields of applications, and we are fortunate to be able to present several references where fine- grain dredged material has been contained in large-scale development projects using geotextiles and geotubes,” Herrera said. (What is currently unclear, however, is how comparable those projects are to what would be undertaken in Belize — and whether those areas were completely similar in topography and natural features. There are also questions about whether, in those particular areas, there was so much at stake — a marine ecosystem and Barrier Reef that are a key part of the country’s whole economy and the livelihood of countless Belizeans.)
Nonetheless, the developers mentioned some examples of developments where geotextiles were used – four project references in total, and noted that the dredging site will be subject to unannounced inspections from government agencies and monthly monitoring reports.
Of the three alternatives for nearshore containment, the developers have indicated that they have opted to deploy the first — containing dredge spoils using geotextile curtains connected to semi-submersed floats and anchor lines. Anchor blocks placed on the shoreside of the containment curtain will be buried in dredge materials and effectively cemented in place, they stated.
In regards to the potential impact of the project on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Belize Barrier Reef, the developers claimed that the project will eliminate cruise tender vessels and bulk anchoring, welcome cleaner vessels, and reduce emissions from the national port.
They were asked, however, how such a piece of infrastructure would be able to withstand the impact of a strong storm or hurricane such as Hurricane Lisa, which recently made landfall in Belize. No response was given by the developers to this question. Belize sits within a climate-sensitive zone and, as such, is vulnerable to the impact of storms that could potentially cause extensive damage to coastal infrastructure.
“You said that you’re going to be using silt screens, and you going to be using the best silt screens and all that. Everybody knows that the silt screen would have been no protection to any significant storm like the one we just saw with Hurricane Lisa,” one participant at the public consultation said.
The project proponents have said that shoreside berthing has been in demand in the cruise industry for almost 20 years, and they claimed that their project provides such an alternative, but it was noted that two other cruise port projects, Port of Magical Belize and Port Coral, already approved by the NEAC and under construction, will also provide such an alternative.
While the developers have touted purported benefits that the project would generate for the people of Port Loyola, it has been noted that many residents of Port Loyola and Belize City know very little about the Waterloo project and how it could affect them. Community surveys done by the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) found that public consultation within the community was lacking.
“We got three community workers from that community to go door to door for two weeks in the community, just the Jane Usher community, and we’ll show you the numbers. The majority of the people said ‘no one came to my house, and told me about this project’, ‘I do not know about this project’. Some said, ‘what I know I know from the news’. Just from that small synopsis, it is unfair and unethical to ask people to take a position on this project when they don’t know enough about it.” YaYa Marin Coleman, chairman of UEF, said during her comments.
Calls have been made by UEF and other community members for a public hearing on this Waterloo project.
“UEF has been advocating for a public hearing, at a public consultation. You want the project, you’re pushing for the project. A public hearing is less biased. The department should tell us about everything about the project, which the department has not done,” Marin-Coleman pointed out.
The National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) is to meet on November 24 to deliberate once more over whether to grant approval to Waterloo’s proposed project.