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Home General Confusion in paradise: Placencia in growing pains of development!

Confusion in paradise: Placencia in growing pains of development!

The assault on Bulman prompted the village council chairman, Glenford Eiley, to issue a written apology on June 29, distancing the council from its member?s action, categorizing it as ?totally unacceptable behavior? and an ?individual act.? Apart from its letter of apology to Bulman, however, the PVC has not taken any disciplinary action against the member.

Besides the PVC, there is a next-door neighbor, the caretaker/resident of the Sand Castle, Tom Knox, who joined in the fray?complaining bitterly in a letter to Amandala (see Amandala no.1877 of July 11, 2004) that the project?s work had created unacceptable, illegal noise pollution, along with a number of other complaints and alleged violations of the environmental laws.

The pier?s construction, though legally approved and licensed by the Ministry of Natural Resources, flies in the face of the Placencia community, whose opposition is based primarily on their old customs, rather than any precise law prohibiting pier construction. The law makes provisions for the granting of a pier license from the Ministry of Natural Resources under certain conditions, one of which is an annual rental fee of $800, once approval to construct the pier is granted.

On June 18, 2004, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment granted Sea View Properties a license to construct the pier. Among some of the conditions that must be adhered to are that, ?the public shall have access to the pier at all reasonable times,? and ?activities which pollute or contaminate the water are not permitted.? The permit also states that, ?non-compliance with any of the conditions shall be grounds for revocation of this permit.?

On the issue of noise pollution, Amandala spoke with Environmental Officer, Icilda Humes, today, Wednesday, August 4. Humes confirmed that Bulman?s next-door neighbor, Tom Knox, has complained about the noise level and the burning of plastics, which lets off noxious fumes. Humes told the newspaper that the Department of the Environment did an inspection of the project, but that the findings have not been released to the proponent as yet, and therefore, she could not comment on the results of the inspection.

The inspection took place on July 9, and a decibel meter was used to measure the noise level from the on-going construction work. Humes added that the department still does environmental compliance monitoring of the project.

On the other hand, Placencia?s proposed by-laws have been approved by its village council, but have not been passed into law by central government, and this continues to remain a sticking point to a village that appears to be growing in importance to the tourism sector of the economy, PVC chairman Eiley pointed out.

The absence of its by-laws appears to have the effect of locking the PVC out of areas of concern that relate to development in its jurisdiction. Chairman Eiley says that his community is one of the fastest growing communities, and that they need special attention: ?But as we develop, we have to accept change.?

Eiley went on to explain to the newspaper that their fight is not with Bulman and her project, but with the government, which did not pass their by-laws and did not consult with them before issuing a permit to Bulman?s company to construct a pier on the beach. Their fight, Eiley said, is also with the Solicitor General, on whose desk the proposed by-laws have been sitting for two years and counting, and the Solicitor General has not given the village council a valid reason for holding up the by-laws.

Even though Sea View Properties Limited have complied with all the relevant national laws, there is still the perception in Placencia that central government has been disrespectful in not consulting with the PVC, before approving the project and granting the pier license.

The PVC sent two letters to the Ministry of Natural Resources, on June 2 and on July 1, taking them to task for granting pier licenses without first consulting with them. On July 1, the Ministry of Natural Resources replied to the concern raised by the PVC, informing them that it (the Ministry) was not aware of any policy restricting it from granting future pier permits.

Chairman Eiley had this to say about the pier license: ?We deny locals the right to build piers, so this situation is galvanizing something here. Sixty feet of beach is considered public domain. Building docks would seriously impair the ability of Belizeans to enjoy the beach. That is why the by-laws are so important to us. We encourage development, but we need to have control of what is being developed.?

But even as the confusion remains, and the PVC continue to feel slighted by Belmopan, Sea View Properties Limited is going ahead full speed with its construction project. According to Dianne Bulman, the project began in mid-February, but it has fallen a few months short of its expected completion date. Bulman says that the project provides direct employment to at least one hundred and fifty persons, ninety of whom are full-time employees.

When it is fully completed, Casa de la Siesta will have five buildings, consisting of twenty-two apartment complexes, constructed at a cost of $US5 million. Bulman told Amandala that the project?s targeted market are people from the western United States and western Canada, and any local Belizean wishing to invest in the condominium apartments.

Bulman insists that her pier will not affect or hamper the bathing activities of people on Placencia. ?I understand the Village Council situation. They have been fighting for a long time to get their by-laws to be passed. It is a political issue, which has nothing to do with me. I came here to buy land, not to get into politics. They have known about my pier,? Bulman told Amandala.

?I know that they are angry, but they cannot be angry at me. They have to be angry at Belmopan?

Bulman went on to say that Tom Knox does not know what he is talking about, because she has had toilet facilities for her workers from about three weeks into the project. Knox also had raised the question of the impermeable surface that the project has. But Bulman said her project, with 13.7% impermeable surface, is probably the lowest in the country for a project like this.

Another area of concern that Knox raised in his letter to Amandala was the disposal of effluent for a project of such magnitude.

Developer Bulman said that this concern has already been taken care of legally, and has been agreed to with the Department of the Environment, in its March 2004 Environmental Compliance Plan. For its waste disposal, Bulman said that she has drawn up plans to install a US$100,000 sewer treatment plan – Up-flow Sludge Blanket Filtration (USBF). The water from its sewer waste would be so clean, that you should be able to drink it. But we will use it to water plants, Bulman disclosed.

Tom Knox told Amandala that since his letter appeared in the Amandala, 90% of the things that he complained about have ceased to occur on the project. But he could not comment on certain allegations that he had raised in his letter, because, ?the matter is in my attorney?s hands.?

Knox, however, told Amandala that, ?The owner of the property, The Sand Castle, that I am care-taking, has some concerns over the value of his property, once the project next door is completed.?

Placencia real estate agent, Brian Yearwood, however, disputes the logic of Knox?s reasoning, telling Amandala that, ?That project could only increase the value of the Sand Castle, as the price tag per condominium unit is around $275,000 to $300,000, five of which have already been sold.

?The place is becoming known. The road is coming on stream in March of 2005, and the 22-mile feeder road that leads to Placencia will be paved. This will drive up the price of real estate on the peninsula even higher than US $2,200 per sq. foot that sea front properties are presently being sold for.?

Another Placencia businessman that Amandala spoke with, told the newspaper on condition of anonymity, that ?Some business persons are against the proposed by-laws because it has the potential for low-level corruption. The by-laws, in its proposed form, are not good for the village.?

Area representative and Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Rodwell Ferguson, told Amandala that he supports the project in principle. ?I don?t see a problem with the pier. There was a pier there before Hurricane Iris, but it was destroyed by the hurricane.?

When asked if there was bad blood between him and PVC chairman Eiley, Ferguson said, ?There is no bad blood between me and Eiley. Eiley is playing politics. I am trying to arrange a meeting between all the parties to sort this matter out, because of the sizable nature of the investment.?

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