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Jan 23, 2014

NCL Project gets the thumbs down at consultations

The Norwegian Cruise Line proposed port on Harvest Caye has been somewhat on the backburner lately, but for tourism stakeholders and residents in the south, it is certainly up front and personal. The topic resurrected with a vengeance on Wednesday night, when NCL executives stopped off in Independence for a community consultation facilitated by the Department of the Environment. On the table was the Environmental Impact Assessment, and that three hundred and nine page document sparked very heated discussion and fiery commentary. The stated purpose of the session held at the Independence High School was to elicit scientific and technical input. We’re not sure if that was achieved, but NCL and the D.O.E. did get a heaping helping of reality. Mike Rudon was in Independence and has the story.

FOR VIDEO CLICK HERE: INSIDE NCL CONSULTATIONS

Mike Rudon, Reporting

According to the official register, about three hundred and fifty southern residents and tourism stakeholders attended the consultation on Wednesday night. The NCL project has been a point of contention since it was announced, so it’s a pretty good bet that executives did not expect a bonding session with hand-holding and back-patting. But the process is necessary, even if a little unpleasant.

 

Hugh Darley, Art Director, NCL

Hugh Darley

“It’s a very complicated process and as we discussed it’s a very complicate process and its lot of technical information. Sometimes you don’t get a reaction; it’s going to be very emotional. We are trying to deal with the facts which the requirements are in the EIA. So the whole thing today is to get people from the emotional stand point to really understand. We would have loved to share eight or ten hours with the technical information but for an audience of this size that is pretty difficult. So we hope people can read the EIA as several people did which I liked that. These criticisms can come back to us and we could make corrections. But again it’s a very complicated process with a lot of a lot of science and its better if we can kind of separate the emotions form the facts .So you heard tonight a little bit about the conversation, we are hoping we could stick with the facts and don’t let the emotions comes in when it come to making good decisions.”

 

The tone of the night was set early on, and the EIA was put on trial. Apparently the document is chock full of errors and premises based on old data and statistics, so pleasantries were immediately discarded.

 

Resident

“Do not come and disrespect us with an EIA that I don’t know if you thought that we weren’t going to read it but we did. And so I did not like it any at all because really and truly if you are going to present data to somebody and tell them I want you to accept this. Please, come to the consultation and you know accept and say yes go ahead with the project we agree; then give us the correct thing.”

 

Hugh Darley

“I think that there were a lot of different factions within the group that were putting the information together. There is also a lack of continuity of information. You look at several series of studies; the information doesn’t necessarily build on the other. So we are looking at things, thing we found here was our data collection was not as thorough as we would normally see maybe on location. So we actually got to go back and work with the government agencies and authorities to find better databases, so that we could build those bases. It think there is probably some editing errors and probably some overview that were not covered that should have been. But because of the amount of data that we were trying to collect, we probably did it to meet a timeframe. They did rush us because we are trying to meet some criteria so that we can get the investment in place sooner rather than later.”

 

But while NCL is rushing to put things in place, residents and stakeholders are not happy. To them the sloppy EIA is a disastrous launching point. So for more than two hours, they made their displeasure known. But it wasn’t only the EIA…there were many questions about sewage disposal, water treatment, dredging, disposal of garbage, tendering and employment for Belizeans.

 

Melvin Hulse

Melvin Hulse, Former Area Representative, Stann Creek West

“We don’t want to be servants. Norwegian will survive a next hundred years if the people are the stakeholders of that industry that we all benefit. We don’t want another tourism village like Belize City. You walk out of it, you get caught between four walls and that’s the end of that. You want my support, you have my support, but change the tone of how you the talk today. And I need a full report of the specific corrections in that EIA.”

 

Wil Maheia, Community Activist

“Mr. Garbutt earlier talked about the tendering; will the Belizean get an opportunity to invest in the tender to own the tender so that they can feel ownership of this?”

 

Hugh Darley

“If they can come up with the capital to make those investments, yes.”

 

Wil Maheia

Wil Maheia

“What is this multi-billion dollar Norwegian Cruise Line doing to assist poor Belizean to become owners in a company like this?”

 

Hugh Darley

“They will be investing fifty-million dollars in Belize.”

 

Wil Maheia

“And will they be getting that back in the head tax, so it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”

 

Hugh Darley

“I think anyone in the room here who are an investor; you can expect some level of return in your investment.”

 

Wil Maheia

“Yeah, but at the end of the day this is Belizean territory, this belong to Belizean, Belizeans need to be stakeholders. I mean not just to let them work there but also take ownership of the investment.”

 

Jorge Franco, Department of Environment

“Your concern has been noted, thank you.”

 

Resident

“It said the solid waste that will be moved from the island, in fact it is supposed to be seventy thousand pounds per day and you were to reduce it to eighteen hundred and something pounds and that would be taken to big creek municipal dump site. There is only one dump site and even Big Creek; the people from Big Creek take it to the Independence one which is outside of Independence.”

 

Hugh Darley

“Well we are going to incinerate the waste on the side at…”

 

Resident

“That’s what I am saying the EIA talks about one things in the first part and then addresses something else in the latter part. So it becomes confusing for some people, even for myself.”

 

Pepe Garcia, Consultant

“Maybe there was a mistake, but nothing too serious (laughter).”

 

Mike Heusner

Stewart Krohn

“How on earth do you dredge a million cubic yards of fill, replenish a beach and dear call it a nature park. I mean congratulations because it is brilliant. I don’t know if it was Pepe, if it was Mr. Darley, maybe the Arguelles brothers, but I really need to congratulate you and the perversion of the English language because it is absolutely brilliant. This is a cruise port. It’s not a nature park. Cockscomb is a nature park, Guanacaste is a nature park, Bladen is a nature park, Harvest Caye is certainly not a nature park, and certainly not after you get through with it. Question, you’ve been talking about technical issues and I certainly have many, and I am sure other people will give them up. But let’s talk about this cruise port is really about. It’s about money okay, plain and simple, this is all about money.”

 

Mike Heusner

“Because of the difficulty in interpreting the accuracy of the EIA and looking at the situation down here, and the national tourism master plan for no big cruise ships in southern Belize, I will categorically reject the NCL Project.”

 

Herbert Haylock, President, B.T.I.A.

“If you looked at his particular meeting, and if you were in attendance in regards to the questions that people were asking and the details that the people were seeking; you didn’t get that from this particular session. There were obvious open areas in regards to the EIA and the responses we were getting in response to the questions that were being asked. So I don’t necessarily feel that the general public that was in attendance at this left comfortably and satisfied that their questions were answered. I think that more questions were asked than were answered at this session.”

 

Herbert Haylock

Despite all that, NCL is determined to press on, and says the negativity is mainly because people haven’t gotten a clear understanding of the benefits of the cruise tourism industry.

 

Hugh Darley

“No company wants to come to a community where they are not wanted, so my job is really to find what matches the requirements and the expectation of the community. I think you heard a lot tonight was people still don’t have a clear understanding of how these things works. How the tourism industry has positive impacts. Some of the socio-economic problems have not been answered.”

 

Herbert Haylock

“You obviously saw the mood tonight and you obviously saw the questions that were being asked. And it think people are saying that listen; hold up, we need to look at this a little closer and we need to ask more specifics in what is being presented to us. Again as an organization form the BTIA front, we have gone on the record in regards from a NEAC perspective asking for a public hearing in this matter, as opposed to simply a public consultation. There is a lot things that need to be looked at in regards to this development, and again it’s evident from the questions being asked tonight.”

 

Of about fifty persons who stood on Tuesday night to ask questions, express concerns or make comments, only about three expressed support for the project, one of them tentatively. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

NCL is ready to get started as soon as possible, and is even prepared to start doing immediate work on the island under the terms of the EIA. But Darley says that they have decided to wait until a full green light is issued. 

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