NEAC Meets to Discuss Proposed Stake Bank Tourism Development Project
Government has confirmed that it will be entering into a binding agreement with Norwegian Cruise Lines for a fifty million dollar tourism development at Harvest Caye. But there’s another tourism project which is likely to stir controversy because it involves the construction of a causeway which is believed will affect the Swallow Caye Reserve, which was established to protect the endangered manatee population. The fate of the alleged two hundred million dollar cruise tourism project rests on the decisions made by one committee today. The Stake Bank Project lies on the table before the National Environmental Appraisal Committee. That thirteen member body theoretically has the power to give the massive undertaking a green light or a red light. We say theoretically because historically there have been many political attempts to meddle in, manipulate or even disregard the decisions made by the NEAC. The committee was today locked in discussion and debate at the Belize Biltmore Plaza in Belize City. Mike Rudon has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
The Stake Bank project in all its proposed glory features three luxury hotels, a world-class restaurant and a causeway which would link that destination to the mainland. But for all that to happen, the idea has to get past the National Environmental Assessment Committee.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer
“The major point on the agenda is the Stake Bank Project, Stake Bank/North Drowned Caye. Based on the information submitted after the addendum, we are considering it, analyzing it and then making a decision on the way forward.”
In deciding that way forward, there are serious environmental concerns which must dominate all discussions.
“One of the major ones from an ecological perspective is the wildlife from the protected areas that are there. And that is one of the points that has been raised, discussed thoroughly and some way forward is being suggested based on legal…the legislation and the agencies responsible to try to work with the investor, the developer, and come up with an amicable solution to the issue in the best interests of the manatee which is the flagship of that area. But that is only one issue, environmentally speaking. You have also marine pollution issues which need to be addressed especially for a cruise port like this…marinas for example…we need to look at the mitigating measure, how we minimize the impact on the marine environment. And then we have the causeway issue…how we can look at traffic management, environmental issues associated with that infrastructure on the seabed, navigational lanes on the marine environment…all those things are part of the discussion also.”
And while the Stake Bank project is the focus, the committee is aware that any decisions it makes today will be much farther reaching.
“You notice it’s after lunch and we’re still discussing specifically the Stake Bank vis a vis the cruise tourism sector generally and not only the specific project. Because once NEAC makes a decision it sets precedents and it addresses the entire sector as such so we want to get it right from the beginning and hence the reason why half-day has passed and we’re still discussing the way forward with a particular project because whatever happens here will be setting the precedent for any future cruise tourism port in Belize.”
But future cruise tourism ports aside…the future of this particular port was still very much in the air this afternoon…awaiting a decision by the NEAC.
“The process has always been that the NEAC reviews, discusses and makes recommendations – approval, no approval, needing more information, those sorts of things and then that recommendation goes to the DOE, the Environment Department, who then compiles, not only based on minutes, but resolutions made, decisions made and then we forward it to the membership in general, the ministry and other key stakeholders in what we are thinking or decisions and recommendations that have been made for the way forward.”
If the project is approved, an Environmental Compliance Plan will then be prepared for signing by the investor before the go-ahead if formally declared.
Mike Rudon reporting for News Five.
Late this afternoon, there was still no word from the Committee. We note, though, that on Monday a release allegedly from the Feinstein Group of Companies issued an invitation to the media to attend a conference for the launching of the Stake Bank Cruise Ship Project and the Ocean View Grand Project. That conference is set for Wednesday.
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