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Jul 2, 2004

Mining versus tourism at Cave?s Branch

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The saying “progress brings problems” is a familiar mantra in modern day Belize, and is applicable to everything from traffic jams to health problems. More recently the collision between old practices and new realities has been felt in the burgeoning tourism industry. Our rivers, for example, once highly valued for all the sand and gravel that could be ripped from their beds, are now more prized for their ability to float tourists on their clear waters between pristine jungle covered banks. And nowhere is the conflict between past and future more acute than on the meandering course of the Cave’s branch. Patrick Jones reports.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

The area behind Frank?s Eddy Village is a naturalist?s dream come true, but the presence of heavy machinery working in the middle of the Caves Branch River represents a nightmare for area residents, tourists, and tour guides. Village council chairman Hilario Mes has been beating a path between the riverbanks and the office of the Director of Geology and Petroleum, Evadne Wade Garcia.

Hilario Mes, Chairman, Frank?s Eddy Village

?Our biggest complaint right now is the excavation as you are seeing here. We are so upset about it. Why? It affects our livelihood of many, not only here, not only the village I am representing. Not only the area here that you are seeing around us, the tour guides, the tour operators, the cruise ship people who come to see it. I mean, is that what we are showing the world??

When News 5 visited the area this morning, the excavator was still going and trucks were hauling away material, utilizing a road built in the middle of the Caves Branch River.

Patrick Jones

?Hundreds of truck loads, literally tons of sand and gravel, have been lifted from the bed of the Caves Branch River since the operation started three weeks ago. Chairman of Frank?s Eddy Village, Hilario Mes, says this is an environmental disaster that threatens to undermine the economy of one of the most pristine areas of the country.?

Hilario Mes

?When they create this hole, or when they excavate down stream of that crossing, the water level drop. That makes the tubes flow less, because before the level is higher and then you wouldn?t have to stop very often. Now in the spots that we usually get up off the tube and walk a little further down, now you have to walk further.?

But apart from making this popular activity more difficult on this stretch of the river near the Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve, a short distance away, the Balam Ha Resort is also feeling the pinch of the dredging. Removal of material has turned the water a mile and a half downstream a murky chocolate colour, and turned visitors by the hundreds.

Hilario Mes

?It?s an environmental [disaster], because they passed the limit where they are supposed to dig. If I can show you some of the erosion taking on the sides, they are supposed to leave a little edge on both sides. But no, they go with everything, and then it collapse. And soon, we?ll be losing land; we?ll be losing big trees. And these are the trees that our tour guides use to give their little interpretation talks and say it?s the Maya tree. We loose it already.?

The material is hauled to this quarry from where it is delivered to buyers. Mes says that since dredging started, there has been a dramatic fall in the water level, and what?s more, he is powerless to do anything about it because the Geology and Petroleum office has given the owners of the operation another fourteen days to continue dredging.

Hilario Mes

?They can take as much in that time. And they go later now to get as much, much more. They go later than normal time and they put more trucks to get out as much as they could in that amount of time.

?We have called, we have bring them, and they have seen it with their own eyes. Yesterday we called the operator to stop, and then in the office they make some kind of agreement that we can?t do nothing. Mr. Mes you can?t do nothing until in fourteen days the people are gone.?

When contacted this afternoon by News Five, Director of the Geology and Petroleum Unit, through a secretary, declined comment, saying she is unable to comment on the situation until there is resolution from Minister of Natural Resources John Briceño. Patrick Jones, for News Five.

News Five understands that the mining operation is being carried out by Belmopan resident Orlando Waight. We were unable to reach him for comment. Over ninety residents of Frank’s Eddy and tour guides employed in the area have signed a petition circulated by the Village Council. The petition, which calls the mining operation an “ill-fated venture where only a few benefit” will be presented to Minister Briceño sometime next week.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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