Last Week Tuesday December 30, we told you about the story of the Dam that was built in Barton Creek, apparently without permission from the Department of the Environment. We will play the original story in case you missed it last week.
Many Belizeans know of the ATM cave; Actun Tunichil Muknal , as well as the cave at Caves branch , also in the Cayo District.
The Dark Knight story, which aired recently in the media, showed the plight that local tour guides have in accessing the cave location in that property.
PlusNews travelled to Barton creek, a Mennonite community, now owned by a few wealthy Canadians and Americans. Deep within this lush forest and farming area is a tourist destination known to just a few Belizeans; The Barton Creek cave system is comprised of well over 5 miles of caverns with an entire mile accessible to tourists for canoeing and sightseeing. The cave was used by the Mayas for ceremonies and when combined with the Mayan pottery, bones and stalactites and stalagmites it has become one of the areas protected and administered by NICH.
A NICH protected area comes with its own regulations, and as this sign demonstrates ; there is a lot you cannot do. And if you do it; there must be the proper EIAs and permission from the relevant departments.
So it was quite a surprise when we found a dam built almost at the mouth to the entrance of the Barton Creek cave; it’s found at Mike’s Place owned by one Mike Bogart. His website claims the caves are on his private property.
But just downstream from this dam is another one, much bigger, one that diverts almost the entire Barton Creek itself on to the private property leased by one Ian Anderson. His neighbor is Karina Tylor and she told us that upon her return from the US, she found it just upstream from her property.
“If they built the first dam further up the river to slow the flow of water. I spoke to one of the men that said that they were actually diverting it off into his land. It was just flooding his land, and I couldn’t understand why they would do that.
Where the old river used to flow is nothing but rock, and there is a brand new river now that’s been cut into his property, with a very, very large dam and an electric wheel, like a powerhouse.
The stream used to run in one flow. There was no island. It used to run to the west, ’cause north is behind you. That would be west over there, and the entire creek used to come down through the west side of this island. It seems that they’ve built a dam, and they’ve diverted the water up here to this powerhouse, where there’s a big water wheel, and the original concrete pillar is sitting in the middle of this island, as though it was placed in the middle of the water.
This island was never here. They pulled in a tractor from Esperanza. I forget the man’s name. He diverted the river from up top over to the left into this man’s yard. They built support walls. This dam has been built with concrete and rock. They’ve totally changed the flow of the water. Even the colour of the water is changed.
I know that just recently, to the south of this dam up on the creek, hundreds and hundreds of freshwater shrimp were dead on the shores. The fishery and the hatcheries is all going to be changed due to this.”
Theodore “Pappy” Lennan, a former Tour guide, says that these structural interventions are changing the character and flow of the water, and in an area where all access to the Barton Creek caves are private, only the creek itself is truly public access. Now that has been blocked.
“About twenty years ago we used to access the cave through the river, ’cause at that time the Mennonites didn’t have a road to go up. So we used to stop right by where you’ll cross the river with a vehicle now, and we used to go up the river with the canoes. Before that we didn’t have any diversion. It used to be one straight [stretch] and the current was a lot higher. The water was higher. By them putting a dam on the river, it did a lot of change.
These are all for the Belizean people, and now they don’t even have access to come to the river. For me what I think is, through all the years that I used to do tourism it’s really changing. All they’re doing now is to see how they could just grab and close off a lot of the areas and don’t allow Belizeans to go into the areas.”
Karina has spent 12 years living in Belize and says that she is observing that Belizean locals are losing more and more ground to these expatriates she calls “immigrants”.
“The people [have] to stand up, because if they don’t this isn’t going to be Belize anymore. It’s going to be Little Canada or Little America.
All of these immigrants are coming to the country, and they’re taking away the Belizean right of using the public access ways, which is 66 feet from the right and the left of the creek to each side.
They have signs up. They have gates up stating ‘No Entry’ or ‘Private Property’. They’re closing access roads.
The Belizean people have to start to stand up and fight for their Belizean rights, or there’s going to be nothing left for the children. It shouldn’t be that the white or the immigrants of this country come in with their pocket-books full and pay people off to get things done that are not approved.”
Since visiting the area for ourselves last week, PlusNews contacted the Department of Environment who informed us that no permission had been given to anyone to build a dam on Barton Creek, much less alter the flow and direction of the Creek. They requested and we submitted to the department, video footage of what we had encountered and we have been informed that the Department has since sent a crew out to the community to investigate the matter. We are now awaiting an official response from the Department and will keep you posted.
On Tuesday, we contacted the Department of the Environment to get an update, and they told us that while the crew did find the dam at Mike’s Place, they could not find this larger dam. That dam diverts the flow of the river, and as a result, cuts into the property of Ian Anderson where a hydraulic system was built.
Plus News understands that a meeting will be taking place in Belmopan on Wednesday, between the Department of the Environment, Mike Bogart, and Ian Anderson, as a result of PlusTV’s story.
The Department of the Environment has also promised us an interview sometime this week.