Black Immigrant Daily News
The Department of the Environment has informed Waterloo Investment Holdings Limited that its proposed cruise port and cargo expansion project at the Port of Belize Ltd. in Port Loyola has not been approved. Environmental clearance for the project has been denied for a second time. The developers have 21 days to lodge an appeal.
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Dec. 7, 2022
In the Tuesday issue of the AMANDALA, it was reported that, after days of hesitation by most government officials to comment on the matter, the CEO in the Ministry of Sustainable Development and chairman of the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC), Kenrick Williams, had confirmed that the NEAC had voted to reject Waterloo Investment Holdings Ltd.’s proposal to construct a cruise terminal, along with the expansion of cargo capacity, at the Port of Belize Ltd. He indicated, however, that the final decision would be made by the Department of the Environment (DOE), and that the NEAC’s decision ultimately was a recommendation that would have to be reviewed by the DOE.
This week, however, the Department of Environment informed Waterloo Investment Holdings Limited that the recommendation of the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) to not grant environmental clearance to the proposed project has been accepted by the DOE.
A press release issued by the DOE on Tuesday evening states, “Following a process of public consultations, exchanges with the developer and site inspections, the NEAC, at its meeting held on November 24, 2022, recommended, on the basis of the scientific and technical information before it, that the project not be granted environmental clearance.”
It is being reported that, in a letter to Andy Lane, Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Belize Ltd., the Chief Environmental Officer, Anthony Mai, noted that because the company had insisted that the cargo expansion at the Port and the construction of a cruise terminal be considered as one application, the DOE proceeded to make an assessment/decision “on that basis”. The letter reportedly also reminded Lane that the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (amended in 2020) provided the legal framework by means of which the project proposal was reviewed.
In the initial portion of the letter, the Department of the Environment went on to state that it took note of “concerns raised by the public” and that it found that the NEAC’s recommendation was “well-founded”. It further pointed to the Revised Terms of Reference which guided the NEAC’s decision-making process. These guidelines included areas of concern, such as the potential impact on flora and fauna as a result of the proposed marine development, the possible effects of the large-scale dredging that would have to take place, the potential impacts on long and nearshore shore currents and “possible shoreline erosion or accretion”, the possible impact the project could have on the “traditional uses of the area”, and the ways in which the project could impact the neighboring communities socioeconomically and culturally. (The DOE would indicate later in the letter that there had not been adequate consultation by the developers with those communities.)
What was further noted is that the NEAC, according to its mandate, had to examine the Environmental Impact Assessment report submitted to it “on the basis of scientific evidence and facts concerning social, economic and ecological considerations” and that in the process of reviewing possible environmental effects of the project it also had to consider the “significance or the seriousness of those effects”.
The letter then stated that Waterloo’s expansion of cargo capacity and construction of a cruise terminal, which would require the dredging of up to 7.5 million cubic meters of material, would “represent one of the most significant dredging projects in Belize” and that the Committee “was not assured that the methodology proposed in the 2022 EIA Report would be effective in containing the dredged spoils”. It further made mention of the method the company proposed for containing 3.5 million cubic meters of the spoils in a nearshore location, which involved the use of geotextiles, and pointed out that such a method “has not been used before and therefore poses a risk of failure”. Notably, while the developers had referred to examples of the use of geotextile material for containment in their Supplemental Report, the Department of Environment made a key observation in its letter to Lane: that those examples “are not reflective of the method that the Developer proposes to use in Belize”.
According to the letter to Lane, additional concerns that influenced the decision to reject the proposal included the “detrimental impact” that the nearshore disposal of dredged material could have, not only on the Belize Barrier Reef System, given its “sensitive nature”, but also on marine life and on the “fishing grounds and navigation south of the containment area”.
Interestingly, the Department of Environment also called into question the capacity of the containment system to “resist the frequency and magnitude of weather systems that tend to affect Belize” — an observation that is especially poignant in the aftermath of the landfall of Hurricane Lisa. To emphasize that point, the letter noted that “appropriate model validation and simulation timeframe/period to scientifically evaluate the model’s accuracy as well as its ability to perform effectively under diverse climatic and hydrological conditions were not used.” This was a concern that, according to the letter, had been outlined in a piece of correspondence that was sent to the developers in December 2021 when their first EIA was rejected. But the DOE letter claims that “the Developer has not sought to use such an acceptable validation and simulation timeframe or period in the 2022 EIA Report.”
The letter then, near its conclusion, asserts that there were concerns that the “information and analysis provided in the EIA were dated, general and not specific to the proposed project” and that “insufficient field assessment” had been done.
It is important to note, however, that in the letter to Lane, the DOE makes reference to Regulation 27 of the Environmental Regulations, which affords the Waterloo developers the opportunity to write to the Minister of Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management within 21 days if they opt to appeal the decision.
The Department of Environment has also taken steps to address other entities which have commented on the process which led to the decision to deny approval of the Waterloo project. This week it issued a press release dated December 7, 2002 that takes aims at what appears to be an attempt by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry to suggest that reports that the NEAC voted unanimously to reject the Waterloo proposal were untrue. The BCCI stated in a release that its representative, although not present at the meeting at which the vote was carried out, and despite not hearing the scientific and technical comments which led to the decision, had voted in favor of the project. The DOE, however, in its release, puts a spotlight on the seemingly faulty reasoning underlying the BCCI’s claims.
“The Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations regulates the EIA process and does not provide for any of its members, including the BCCI Representative or alternate, to participate and vote without attending the meeting. There was no virtual or remote participation allowed at the November 24, 2022 meeting of the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC), and as BCCI states in its own press release, ‘the BCCI representative was unable to attend the meeting;’ consequently, it is not correct for the BCCI to state that it voted as part of its membership of NEAC,” the DOE release states.
The release further points out that, “the BCCI suggestion that it could have voted without taking into account any scientific and technical reports shared at the meeting, is inconsistent with good decision-making practices and the standard for responsible committee membership.”
This is the second time the project has been rejected, and late in 2021, when the first ESIA for the project was denied environmental clearance, the Waterloo developers had sent a letter to the NEAC’s chairman, Dr. Kenrick Williams, alleging that some NEAC members had sought to “assist” in the process in exchange for “financial remunerations.” When urged by the Sustainable Development Ministry to provide some evidence of their claims or to further explain what took place so that an investigation could be done, however, the Waterloo developers released no further information. So far, the company has not issued an official statement on the second rejection of their proposal.
As noted in the Department of Environment’s letter to Waterloo, during the public consultation on the most recent Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report for the project, the project’s consultants were asked to submit an addendum to the document to answer questions and address concerns regarding the nearshore containment of spoils that would be unearthed during the necessary dredging, and the possible direct or indirect impact on the Belize Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site with Outstanding Universal Value.
The company proposed to dump a portion of the dredged spoils nearshore in the shallow waters near PBL and to contain them with geotextile curtains.
“We appreciate the DOE, NEAC’s, and public concern with the BBRRS and how our proposed aquatic and confined placement (close to the coast, or ‘nearshore’) may have a potential environmental impact. However, it is critical to reiterate how these dredged materials placed are very similar or identical to the natural sediments encountered and every possible measure will be taken to mitigate any potential environmental risk in its entirety,” the developers had stated in their response to the DOE request letter.
Several environmental organizations had pointed out, however, that the dredged spoils were potentially harmful to the marine ecosystem, and had questioned the efficacy of the proposed method of containment of the material, which would ultimately still be placed in the marine ecosystem. When asked how the system of geotextile containment would withstand the impact of a hurricane or strong storm at the most recent public consultation on the project, the developers failed to give a direct response.
Waterloo Investments Holdings Ltd., a company reportedly owned by Lord Michael Ashcroft, is claiming that they have invested more than 5 million dollars in this proposal phase of the project, and in January, after the company’s first ESIA for the project had been rejected, Ashcroft had written to Prime Minister Briceno and made reference to a 1982 UK-Belize investment treaty, on the basis of which, he said, the company would take the matter to international arbitration if an appeal was not heard. The company did not proceed with the appeal, but was allowed to submit a new project proposal instead. That second ESIA has now been rejected.
When interviewed today, Chief Environmental Officer, Anthony Mai, emphasized the concerns surrounding the placement of dredged material and the potential damage that the failure of an untested containment system could cause to the country’s marine eco-system, and noted that these concerns heavily influenced the decision they made.
“A system like this has never been used before. In fact, we have requested information from them as it relates to examples of where it has been used worldwide, and the examples that were provided were not sufficiently clear,” Mai said. He added, “The possible impacts from the possible failure of the containment system would obviously lead to sedimentation, so sedimentation leading south of the proposed disposal area will have significant impacts on the marine life within the area.”
As it relates to the appeal process, he said that if the developers decide to activate an appeal process by writing to the Minister of Sustainable Development, Orlando Habet, he would have to convene a special tribunal to hear the appeal. That body would then hand down a final decision. Mai said that, as far as he is aware, such a process has never before been put into motion in Belize.