No, Leonardo DiCaprio never made it to the meeting, but he did not need to attend the public consultation held in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize, regarding the environmental impact assessment studies made on his private island Blackadore Caye, set to become a prime luxury eco resort in the country.
Dicaprio’s architects, engineers, biologists and field men were on hand at the public consultation held by Belize’s Department of Environment to listen to the environmental impact studies that have been conducted on the island prior to the commencement of development. Large developers in the country must conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in which they must prove that their development is not breaking any environmental laws of Belize and constructing within the guidelines set to protect the natural environment and wildlife of the country.
The public consultation in the community where the development is taking place is a mandatory part of the EIA procedure in which it gives residents an opportunity to hear all of the studies taken and measures to protect the environment. This meeting was held on Thursday, January 14, 2015, at the local Lions Den.
The main idea of the EIA presentation by the architects and developers of Blackadore Caye was that of looking at the current environmental problems the island has sustained and implementing new procedures, actions, developmental strategies, green initiatives to mitigate change and not just stopping the negative effects already impacting the island. Although not explained in full detail, it was indicated that state-of-the-art green initiatives will be implemented on the construction, running and maintenance of the resort. Topics talked about included:
- Reforestation of the mangroves and not removing or building on any current vegetation on the island
- Installing a boardwalk to encourage walking
- No use of fossil fuels on the island
- The use of renewable energy to power the resort
- Using electric vehicles as the mode of transport on the island
- Protection of wildlife in and around the island
- Cleaner water treatment process and disposal, composting & recycling of waste
BUT! The presentation of the EIA did not sit well with the local fishermen of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.
Proposed Blackadore Caye Island Restoration concept
“We do not have a problem with you building on the island, it is yours,” commented Billy Leslie, President of the San Pedro Tour Guide Association and member of the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development. “Our concerns are those with problems arising from the over-the-water structures that are being proposed for development in pristine fishing areas surrounding Blackadore Caye.”
Billy reiterated the concerns of most of the fishermen and tour guides present at the meeting in that the proposed building over the water are going to be constructed on in an area that has just recently been designated a part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, something that he stressed took over three years to be established for protection. Other concerns of the fishermen and guides include the usage of the area for fishing once the resort is operational and the access to the beaches which are considered (Queen’s Land or public).
“A major component in adhering to the Living Building Challenge is to not build within 50 ft of wetlands yet this project is building over the water in Zone C of the newly expanded Hol Chan Marine Reserve,” commented island resident/tourism stakeholder Rebecca Arceo, also a member of Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development. “To me it seems that the Living Building Challenge is nothing more than a marketing tool to be disregarded when it is not profitable for the developer.”
Leonardo DiCaprio’s developers assured that their intentions are to create better conditions for the fishermen so all of their concerns will be looked at, including those concerns of the environment. Their research shows that Blackadore Caye is eroding and deteriorating and that the development will only help to enhance its current state.
Discussion took place, suggestions were made and the concerns of those present at the meeting were noted by the Department of Environment. Procedure calls for all issues that were brought forward at the meeting to be looked at carefully and addressed by the developers before any construction approval can be given.
In one hand, the “Restorative Island” approach that Leonardo DiCaprio is taking for the development of the island to make it “as good as possible” is desirable for Belize. Taking green standards and implementing it on development of large scale resorts like Blackadore Caye is something positive for Belize. On the other hand there is the sensitivity of the environment and low impact of the project that should take president over the building design?
Will Blackadore Caye provide all the securities needed to satisfy the assurance to Belizeans that every step will be taken to protect the environment? They are saying they will, but Sanpedranos can only be skeptical and be on the defensive with so many other projects in the past having broken their promises of being totally environmentally conscious.
Persons wishing to make written comments to the Belize Department of Environment on the Blackadore Caye development can do so by sending them to:
Chief Environmental Officer
The Department of Environment
Or email: email@example.com
For a copy of the EIA report and/or more information on the Department of the Environent, visit website www.doe.gov.bz