John Mills, holder of the mortgage on Northern Two Cayes in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, today stepped forward to address concerns having to do with the legal status of the ownership of Northern Two Cayes, which is currently held by Northern Two Cayes Company Ltd. and Lighthouse Reef Resort Ltd, which have entered into a purchase agreement with Puerto Azul International Holding Corporation of the Bahamas, the principal agent for the developers of the same-titled project at the site. Mills is owed some US$3 million as the holder of the mortgage for the property which he bought through Scotia Bank in 2006, a year after he first came to Belize. Today he said that he had spoken with the developers of the project and believes it can go forward – but he wants to be paid first.
“Well it’s a combination of the two. Clearly I have a financial interest, but at the same time, I am totally committed to the conservation aspect. Puerto Azul, in terms of criticizing it, as Fabio said yesterday, he really wants to do something that everybody approves of. He has to drive that. I have nothing to do with that. The size and scope of what they are trying to do is definitely an issue from a practicality and economic standpoint, environmentally and economically. But there is no question that a viable resort will do well out there. and I wish Puerto Azul all the god fortune in the world to be able to conclude their contract and purchase the island and do a sustainable resort that helps everybody.”
An official statement from Puerto Azul International Holding Corporation released today says, quote, “All encumbrances on the property are scheduled to be paid from closing proceeds by escrow agent Barrow & Williams. Mr. (John) Mills is aware of this as it was settled through legal arbitration.” But according to Mills, the contract was signed two years ago and payments have yet to be settled. Payments were to have been made in March of 2014 and again this year and they were missed, even while the company is claiming plans to inaugurate the project at Christmas and selling timeshares for a property they do not – yet – own. But Mills has spoken with Puerto Azul’s representative and while he does not like all that he heard he believes their hearts are in the right place.
“Yesterday afternoon, “I had a really good conversation with Fabio La Rosa who’s one of the principals from Puerto Azul and I would characterize the conversation as both alarming and encouraging. I think that Puerto Azul has a true belief that they can do a sustainable project out there. They truly have, I think they are well intended in terms of what they are trying to do. On the other hand, I found it alarming because I think there is a disconnect in terms of what is environmentally feasible and also economically feasible out there versus what they’ve talked about doing. For instance, Fabio is still talking about a golf course property out there. Now we all know that a golf course is something that is not practical on a World Heritage site with all the chemicals from the greens and everything.”
Nonetheless, Mills says he will be sitting down with the group for further talks in the coming weeks. As a lover of Belize’s pristine marine setting and an ardent conservationist, he today announced ongoing plans to produce a conservation plan for the entire Atoll that takes development into account.
“In that end, I wanted to bring everyone’s attention to a collaborative effort going on at Lighthouse Caye atoll which is a basic plan for conservation and development that has had the input of all the conservational organizations including fauna and flora, Oceana, Mrs. Julie Robinson’s work with the fisheries is very much involved in this statement and goal of process. We want to make that a collaborative and open process for everyone to have input into. It includes ideas of conservation, ideas of development, ideas about the way the tourism association works with it and the fisheries. So all these ideas are in the report and welcome collaborative comments and input from everybody- all Belizeans. This is your national treasure and I love it dearly.
For Puerto Azul’s part, its president, Domenico Giannini, is quoted as saying in the press release that the corporation “has complied with the terms of reference provided by the Environmental Subcommittee, and environmental studies are being conducted to determine the appropriate development for the Northern Two Cayes. The final project proposal will depend on the outcome of these studies.” The report of the hired environmental appraiser is due in July. The Corporation commits in its press release quote “to take appropriate action through extensive environmental studies and proactive measures to ensure the protection of the atoll and its ecosystems. Currently little is being done to prevent or mitigate the true stressors affecting the atoll. We plan to take a proactive approach to changing that.” A number of environmental organizations made appearances at this morning’s press briefing.