Today in Belize City, the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) formally announced that it had applied for judicial review of the decision of the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) and the Department of the Environment (DOE) to push forward the Harvest Caye project sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Line.
The country’s chief representative for private tourism interests has long objected to the project in its various forms and consolidated its arguments for the press today.
BTIA President Herbert Haylock says they have given the Government entities enough time to respond, and now, it’s time for action.
“Our situation is that today we are going to be filing for leave for judicial review for again the process that has been applied by the OAINE in terms of the processing of the EIA. Mr. Smith, our Counsel on this matter will speak in more detail to the legal aspects of that . This is where we are, ladies and gentlemen. We are of the opinion that speaking on behalf of the private sector and many other interests who have concerns with this issue that those voices, our voices are not being heard, not listened to. It is a real cause for concern. As a country, we get t a position like this that one must then ensue litigation to even be heard or be considered”.
BTIA attorney Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith outlined the legal basis of the challenge.
“The challenge will be based on decisions reached by the NEAC as well as the decisions reached by the Department of the Environment. In relation to the NEAC, certainly, without to all the details on it. The essence of what we are saying, of what we are challenging is the decision of the NEAC to not recommend a public hearing in relation to this matter in circumstances where we believe the law requires a public hearing, and we will be challenging the fact that in breach of the regulations or environmental laws, the required publication and notice requirements were not met, a shunt list all of those, suffice it to say that at the end of the day, when one examines what transpired in relation to the publication of Notice of the Addendum, and the time given to respond to it, what we are left with, is a clear picture that it was severly, drastically truncated”.
Smith added that the Government’s decisions prejudiced those with objections who could not get them heard. The court cannot stop the project, he said, only determine its validity to proceed.
It is his hope – though the possibility of an injunction is present – that NCL does not proceed with work in the area until the case is decided.
While that is the legal basis for the claim, President of the BTIA Placencia chapter, tourism developer and one of the most outstanding critics of the NCL deal, Stewart Krohn, listed numerous objections to generous concessions, both financial and administrative, granted to the cruise company.
The bottom line, he declared, is that Belize will suffer if the deal goes through as presently created, because NCL cannot live up to its commitments, particularly on jobs.
“Some of the reasons we at BTIA and other organizations are against the project are that it is not only against the Master Plan. It is contrary to the specific study that the BTB commissioned two or three years ago in the wake of a previous proposal by Royal Caribbean to have a Cruise Port in Placencia. It is against the advice of every single expert that has ever advised this government. All the advise the government has ever gotten is to embark on a path of low impact high value tourism. What this Cruise Port at Harvest Caye does is the opposite; it is high impact, low value tourism- certainly the worst thing for the country. What we have yet to see and it is certainly was not in the EIA or presented publicly, is the simple cost benefit analysis. We believe that the only thing that this project brings to the table is a small number of looping hard time seasonal jobs”.
There was an interesting intervention from the BTIA’s representative on the NEAC board, Michael Heusner. Heusner is on record as one of the objectors to the project, on the basis that it flouts plans for the area under the National Sustainable Tourism Plan.
Yet he wonders: can the project’s anticipated damage be mitigated?
“It makes me very uncomfortable to have to go to a meeting at NEAC and represent BTIA and the industry when I know that (I have heard the expression) that it’s a done deal and get used to it. I have used my opportunity at NEAC to settle at the best we can do is to mitigate the damages that is going to be done. If it is a done deal, but let’s do it not as bad as they would like to do it, but mitigate the damage as less we can damage the environment”.
The case is expected to come up in the next few weeks.