It took the last fisherman of the night, a quiet gentleman named Gomez, to strip away all the sham and pretense in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the preposterous Cayo Rosario resort proposal.
It was a long and emotional hearing and San Pedranos were pretty much shredding the EIA during the Q&A. If anger were a liquified mass, it would be boiling over and spilling out of the Lion’s Den on to Front Street in San Pedro. As it was, the audience was spilling out onto the streets.
Gomez told the hearing panel that he has pursued bonefish and permit in the shallow waters around Cayo Rosario for 30 years as a tour guide.
“There were days when we saw nothing,” he acknowledged. “And the next day the fish would be so thick you felt like you could walk on them.”
Then he pointed to the engineers and scientists who compiled the report. “You went there for one or two days and concluded there were no fish!” He shook his head in a mix of disgust and amazement.
What triggered his quiet wrath was the conclusion — drawn from two whole days of intense observation — that “the waters around Cayo Rosario are not very ecologically productive or biologically diverse.”
A conclusion so inane that even the construction workers who were paid to fill seats until 8 p.m. joined in the laughter.
Mr. Gomez schooled the visiting report-writers: “Cayo Rosario is not only Cayo Rosario. It is part of a much larger flats system that is growing smaller with each development like this one.”
The Cayo Rosario proposal is the most curious to pop up in ages. The developers are trying to turn a tiny 2.5-acre donut of an island — surrounded by the Ho Chan Ecological Preserve — into a 604-person occupancy resort.
How do they propose achieving such a thing?
Or as one speaker called them: “gringo rings.”
Another said the schematic of the resort looks like a virus, which was quite apt.
Actually, the design calls for two double-pointed oval piers — called a marquis cut were they diamonds (which they are not) — with 90 cabanas on them. On land would be 12 more cabanas and 15 “island villas.” Of course there would be a spa, dive shop, restaurant and club, and wastewater treatment and utility structures shoehorned on the land.
So here is the curious part: 80 percent of the resort would be over the water.
On water that is part of the Ho Chan national preserve system.
On seabed “land” that is not owned by the developer.
The fact that 80 percent of this project is on public preserve captured the imaginations of many speakers.
Possibly more damaging to the surrounding flats would be the channels that would need to be dug through bedrock to enable construction barges to reach the island and the smaller channel to bury utility and water pipes from a 2-acre support site on Ambergris Caye.
One after another, speakers challenged the moral audacity of the developer to extend his development into the fishing and spawning flats.
Of course, there was nobody to respond, as the developers, John Turley and Daniel Kalenov, had wisely chosen to not show up.
Having no developer or his representatives there meant a lot of other legitimate questions could not be answered like:
How is this project being financed?
Why is it registered in Wyoming, U.S.A?
How much financing has been secured so far?
Is this another honey pot scam in which investors are left holding paper as bankruptcy miraculously transmogrifies the developers into another entity which rises up under a new name to refinance the project with fresh investors? (Repeat as needed.) It has been done often enough in Belize to become a signature move and reason to be wary.
“Your developer has left this town high and dry before,” observed one speaker. As others shouted the battle cry “Mahogany Bay!”
How can you legally build on land you do not own?
One speaker said he has 200 questions about the project. I think he was being modest. Here’s an annotated list of concerns by the Defend Blackadore Caye group.
Cayo Rosario has been the target of development before, back when it was a well-known nesting ground for many species of birds, including roseate spoonbills. The solution then was to send thugs to the island to shake the trees and crush the eggs. What birds? What nesting grounds? Well-known story.
On the other hand, this project promises 200 construction jobs over two years and another 200 jobs to run the resort. A well-known local resort owner snorted loudly that he needs a bartender and three waitresses today — and can’t find anybody on the island to hire. Well, yes, but he also has a reputation as the most difficult and temperamental person on the island to work for. So there is that.
But he has a point.
Jobs are the developer’s carrot but waving jobs in front of San Pedranos no longer blinds them to the downsides. They want quality projects that won’t pollute, that won’t degrade the natural charms that draw visitors, that will actually be around for the long haul.
Of course, the developer’s plants in the audience tried to isolate the fishermen from the rest of the community, using jobs as a wedge. It is a strategy that backfired. Island people are savvy enough to understand that fishing is the canary in the coal mine. When it dies, tourism dies beside it.
A healthy fishing community needs a clean environment, unpolluted waters, a healthy reef, healthy mangroves and spawning grounds — the same elements that draw a healthy tourism trade to the island, most of whom will never drop a hook into the waters. Every job on the island is tied to every other job.
Nobody last night was impressed with the promise of 200 jobs tied to Cayo Rosario. Well, nobody who wasn’t paid to attend.
Some saw this as a final stand against unscrupulous development. Many expressed frustration that the governbment of Belize would even put such a project up for a hearing.
Amid threats of a lawsuit and calls for more tangible action, one fisherman equated the night’s work with the stand by Native Americans against the Dakota pipeline in the U.S.
The bottom line from this very passionate crowd was: “This is not your property, not your seabed. Develop your island as best you can but keep your gringo rings off the Ho Chan Preserve.”
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