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Home » Social Issues » Developer & San Pedro residents clash over mega tourist project
Oct 31, 2008

Developer & San Pedro residents clash over mega tourist project

Story PictureBalancing development and the environment is no easy feat as conservationists and developers have often bucked heads over projects. That is the issue tonight as a mega venture spurs major controversy on Belize’s most popular tourist destination. Kendra Griffith reports from San Pedro.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
If San Pedro developer Jeff Pierce has his way, in the next ten years this five hundred and forty-five acre tract of land at the southern end of Ambergris Caye will be transformed into a mega residential and tourist destination entitled “South Beach Belize.”

Once completed, South Beach will feature a casino, hotels, condos, homes, restaurants, a sports complex, shopping mall, and even a water theme park and playgrounds… to name a few. According to the website, the influence for the project is South Beach, Miami in the United States and it will “offer a lifestyle never before experienced on the islands.”

We tried to get an interview with Pierce, but were unable to do so due to scheduling conflicts. Pierce instead furnished us with a copy of an infomercial airing on local stations and referred us to his attorney, Arthur Saldivar.

Arthur Saldivar, Attorney for South Beach
“Jeff Pierce is one of those persons who have seen Belize’s potential and has a vision as to how he can assist in helping us to reach our goal; the goal of any third world country I think to move Belize from a third world to first. He believes that Belize is deserving, as much as any of those places, Costa Rica, The Bahamas, Cayman. Belize is deserving of this kind of development and I believe that we are also. I believe that we are deserving. We don’t have an inferiority complex, we are a very, very beautiful country.”

In the video Pierce explains why Belize needs South Beach.

Jeff Pierce (on infomercial)
“Over the last eleven years we have seen San Pedro grow. The tourists we have met love San Pedro, most would like to move there. The main problem that we are having in attracting tourist is that there isn’t a hotel to handle a chartered plane load of tourists …South Beach will solve that problem and tremendously multiply the income of the island and the country by creating this increased tourist business.”

Pierce also says that the project will increase tax revenue, foreign exchange, and create thousands of construction and hospitality jobs. But the rosy picture that Pierce paints is not what some residents of San Pedro see. The proposed development lays about three and a quarter miles from San Pedro Town and is bordered to the west by Laguna de Boca Ciega and the south by the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. It is that proximity to one of Belize’s oldest protected areas that has many San Pedranos concerned.

Abner Marin, Fly Fishing Guide
“I come in this area when it is very windy and we have bad weather and it is not fishable in the outside, so we come here for small tarpon and snook.”

Abner Marin has been fly fishing for over twenty-five years and says his livelihood and those of many others are in jeopardy. He says as part of the South Beach project, Pierce intends to dredge and make land out of vital mangrove lagoons.

Abner Marin
“This is the first lagoon that comes from Boca Chica from Hol Chan. This is the first lagoon that brings in—the current brings in the small fish and the larvae you know. If they are going to protect the bonefish and the tarpon, they have to protect the environment where they live, where they feed. It doesn’t make sense if we protect the fish and then we’re dredging where they eat… we’ll still kill them.”

Marin says those larvae and juvenile fishes live and grow in the lagoons and then make their way out to the wider sea where the fisherman catch them and to the reserve where the tourist snorkel. The mangroves also provide a natural habitat for birds. Chair of the San Pedro Tour Guide Association, Philip “Billy” Leslie, shares in the concerns.

Philip “Billy” Leslie, San Pedro Tour Guide Assn.
“This development will damage the area where most of our fishermen go to catch these fish. They will remove sand which will not allow the fish to go back in there and damage the delicate mangrove eco-system that we have behind our island.”

Miguel Alamilla, Mgr., Hol Chan Marine Reserve
“You also have other effects of sedimentation, nutrient flow to the reef, which could damage the coral reef.”

In the infomercial, Pierce maintains that the project will not harm the environment.

Jeff Pierce
“The project faces west and will not interfere with existing reserves. Large feeding areas, bird watching, feeding and nesting sections will remain. We’ll take every step necessary to ensure that we don’t do any detriment. Rather we plan on enhancing the environment in the south beach area and for the island. Many engineers and technical specialists have been engaged to complete an EIA which stands for environmental impact assessment which is basically a document that lays out a roadmap for how we will go about building the project and what it will mean to the environment. The document lays out the precautions that are being taken to ensure that the project is safe and promotes every aspect of the environment.”

The other problem that residents and associations have with South Beach is its size.

Jose “Elito” Arceo, Pres., San Pedro Business Association
“All of our members of the association are overwhelmingly not for this development. Not in the size and scope as it presently currently stands. It’s about ninety-five percent of all mangrove wetland areas and borders the Hol Chan Park itself. The area is too sensitive for any kind of large scale development.”

Catherine Paz, Chair, San Pedro B.T.I.A.
“The size of the South Beach Development, the density and the proximity is what really concerns us. It’s very dense, there is a lot of development in low lying areas. South beach, it can work, but it has to be toned down a lot. The areas is a big spot for fishing, fishing resorts, fishing camps; there is so much to be done in that area that is low density and we believe that that’s what needs to be done in that area.”

Billy Leslie
“If a development of this nature would attract tourists, then those tourists didn’t want to come here in the first place because they have Miami. That is not Miami. Majority of our guest from the U.S.A. have Miami beside them. They don’t leave the U.S. to see what they have home, they leave the U.S.A. to see something different. One of Belize’s biggest attraction is its people and if we start to create mega development like this that is secluded, don’t allow people to be around there then that’s not Belize.”

A public consultation on the E.I.A. submitted by the developers was held and on October nineteenth.

Arthur Saldivar, Attorney, South Beach Belize
“As with anything, anything new that is being proposed there are some people who support and some people who oppose.”

Elsa Paz,Mayor San Pedro
“I was at the public consultation and I know that a lot of the citizens were concerned about having the reserve built close to the project.”

For Mayor Elsa Paz, South Beach can be good, if…

Elsa Paz
“I do believe that it is a good project but I think it should go through the correct procedures because especially when it comes to the impact of the environment. I believe that if they go through the correct procedures and respect the environment it’s a good project. It will benefit the citizens, creating jobs, but at the same time it will be more important for the local authorities that it’s under the jurisdiction that we are the ones that have to mange garbage and roads and all of that. If the developer can come up with a plan that he will invest on infrastructure, then I don’t see a problem.”

Paz says that the Town Council would like to see Pierce complete his other project, Reef Village, before moving on the South Beach.

Miguel Alamilla
“It is true that developers and conservationists clash and to a certain extent that is necessary so that there is some sort of control cheque and balance. Generally, the country is developing and we need development but I think, especially in San Pedro Town and Ambergris Caye, we are at a crossroad and we need to define where we want to go? Do we want mass tourism or sustainable eco-tourism or do we want mass tourism? We believe that this project is mass tourism. Do we want that or do we want to focus on sustainable eco-tourism. We need to work hand in hand with the developer to see how we could transform this project into a tourism sustainable project that will not harm the livelihoods of our fishermen and our tour guides and eventually our coral reef. I don’t know if he’s willing to come along and work along with us, that’s up to him to decide.”

For now the decision of whether South Beach will proceed rests in the hands of the National Environmental Appraisal Committee and the Department of the Environment. Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve , the San Pedro Business Association, B.T.I.A. and Tour Guide Association, all say they have sent in their views to NEAC. The comments and the information from the public consultation, along with the E.I.A., will be reviewed in a committee meeting after which they will make a recommendation. That decision is sent to D.O.E. and if approved an environmental compliance plan is written which the developer has to follow. Pierce got into hot water with D.O.E. back in May for commencing construction at the casino site before completing the E.I.A. and was issued a cease and desist order. News Five would like to thank the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and S.P.B.A. for logistical assistance while on the island.

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