Over the Easter weekend, the New York Times broke the story of plans by award-winning actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio to invest in a mega-development on his privately-held island, Blackadore Caye. DiCaprio has joined with a New York City-based firm Delos and a top architect in Jason McLennan to develop the caye into an eco-tourism paradise for the top end of society, with million-dollar condominiums overlooking the Caribbean Sea and health and personal wellness development center in conjunction with restoration of the island’s natural habitat. But while there are plans to open in 2018, does the project have backing here and environmental clearance? Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia says work on the environmental impact assessment is ongoing and no formal plans have been presented, but the Government does appear to like the concept.
“That is the reason they have to do an EIA; because the technical people will have to look at the pros and cons about the project. Looking at the concept plan in the beginning, the island is not a very small island, Blackadore Island is a nice size island that we have over there and I am sure that after looking at the over all project, if they are things that need to be deleted, that will be done. If they are changes that needs to be done, that will be done also.
“A lot of people don’t understand the process that a project of this type goes through. You said there has been some back and forth and you all have seen a plan. The Ministry of the Environment has not become involved at all at this time?”
Manuel Heredia Jr.
“At this point that I know…I definitely will be very honest – I don’t know if they have come into the picture. I know that the first thing that is done is that when the project plans are completed that is submitted to this subcommittee of Cabinet that usually looks to the merits and economics of the project.”
The project promises employment for hundreds of Belizeans who will be trained in “green-building” techniques. That is good news for Heredia, who as area representative of Belize Rural South which includes the caye, says those jobs will be essential to the success of the project.
Manuel Heredia Jr.
“We as a government, we have to look as to the number of employments that will be created, the quality of employments that will be there and we have to make sure that the majority of the employment are for our Belizeans, otherwise it makes no sense. You saw it with the cruise terminal over there that we manage, at least the majority of the people are Belizeans. That is the reason why this government has to… we are trying to make as many jobs as possible and we have to make sure that any project that is done will benefit the majority of Belizeans.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow is quoted in online sources as also tentatively supporting the project. Cabinet’s Sub-Committee on Investment is expected to get the first crack at the development plans to which it will apply its five-point criteria covering environmental, economic, socio-cultural and other considerations.