Friday, June 21, 2024

Despite cease & desist order, unauthorized large-scale dredging off Ambergris Caye’s west coast continues

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Unauthorized dredging projects in the name of development are not a new occurrence on Ambergris Caye. As the island continues to expand, its western coast is seeing its share of such questionable activities. The latest development is a large construction site near the Secret Beach area, where high scale dredging is taking place despite a cease and desist order. It is alleged that no permits have been issued by the relevant government authorities to conduct the said project.

Reports are that the activity has been happening for over a year, and apparently, several attempts have been made to cease the unauthorized works without success. Images provided to The San Pedro Sun show an excavator apparently digging into the sea/lagoon bed, while in the background, a tall wall has been erected. According to reports from persons acquainted with the property, a large area has been excavated between the sea and an inner lagoon to build a private marina.

Cease and desist order allegedly ignored

The concerns are its proximity to the extension of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the alleged illegality of the construction. The San Pedro Sun checked with Hol Chan, who revealed that they are aware of the situation and are closely following the issue. The information shared with The Sun suggests that as of October 2019, Hol Chan has been sending reports to the relevant authorities of said activity, when the construction apparently began. Messages were sent to the Mining Unit, Department of Environment, its Physical Planning Unit, and even the Director of Fisheries, with little to no response.

The development has received verbal stop orders from the Fisheries Department prosecutor and a formal Cessation Order dated November 6, 2019, from the Mining Unit. This directive was addressed to a certain Steve Parrish stating, ‘You and/or your agents are hereby advised that if extraction is currently taking place outside of a valid mineral right adjacent to parcels 8980 and 8981; to cease all extractive activities until these extractions are normalized through the settlement of fines and subsequent issuance of a Mineral Right. Likewise, you and/or your agents are hereby instructed to contact this office no later than November 20, 2019, to start the process of normalization.’ The Cessation Order was to come in to effect upon receipt, and failure to comply with it would result in the further administering of charges.

At that time, the Mining Unit was contacted for a follow-up, but they briefly stated that an investigation was taking place and could not further comment on the issue. Almost a year later, nothing seems to have been enforced as the project has significantly expanded. The San Pedro Sun has contacted the Mining Unit on several occasions without luck. Their standard response is that they are ‘following the reports and that a team is yet to be sent to the island.’ Unsuccessful attempts were also made to reach Inspector of Mines, Michelle Alvarez.

The construction site is also believed to lack an Environmental Clearance Plan from the Department of Environment (DOE). The San Pedro Sun checked with DOE, who could not confirm if any such clearance had been given to this project.

Mayor Daniel Guerrero did not comment on the matter, and Area Representative Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr., could not be reached for comments.

Even as authorities scramble for answers, or choose to remain quiet, the questionable construction and dredging continue. The hope is that the relevant authorities following the issue will clarify the legalities of this project.  One of the major breaches in environmental law is the apparent unauthorized dredging that was ordered to cease by the Mining Unit but continues.

We will continue following this story.

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