YCT increases damage assessment for Toledo protected areas to $147,000-plus

Extracted from Amandala Newspaper
Author: Adele Ramos – adelescribe@gmail.com
Toledo, Wed. Oct. 28, 2009

The Ya’axché Conservation Trust (YCT) has revised its damage estimates following an August 2009 patrol to assess “illegal damages” blamed on Belize Hydroelectric Development and Management Company Ltd. (BHD) within two southern protected areas: the Bladen Nature Reserve and Columbia River Forest Reserve.

In the mid-week edition of Amandala,  the figures presented tallied to roughly $50,000. However, YCT says that the figure for remediation works alone was $125,000 and not only the $26,700 initially quoted.

“Numerous impacts to the natural and archeological resources of the area were noted to be from forest clearance even on slopes of up to 45° as well as blocked creeks, illegal resource use  and road development,” YCT said in the executive summary of the assessment report. “These activities are of particular consern due to the international biological importance of the area which has been listed as a national focal site for biodiversity conservation.”

The YCT received reports of the illegal clearings in July and a multi-agency patrol including YCT, the Forest Department and the Department of the Environment, visited the area in August.

“It is recommended that BHD cover the estimated $125,000 for the remediation of damage, plus $22,040 for payment to the Government of Belize for expenses incurred to conduct this assessment, plus a fee for the diminished environmental services during the >40-year regeneration period and punitive damages at a fugure set by the Ministry of Natural Resources, ” YCT’s revised report says.

The Government of Belize gave the Belize Hydroelectric Development Company Limited a concession date December 5, 2008. The Forestry Department reportedly gave the company a research permit in October 2009 to enter the protected areas and conduct a feasibility study.

At the time of the clearings detailed above, the company was operating without any approval from the Government to enter and undertake any clearings inside the protected areas. However, there is no indication that the company was fined for undertaking works before applying for the permit.

The company, said the concession, could develop the full hydro potential of the Rio Grande, but in an environmentally responsible manner. In the agreement, the Government of Belize granted BHD the “non-consumptive use” of all water in the Rio Grande – which drains the majestic Maya Mountains – and all its tributaries, upstream of the existing 2.2 megawatt Hydro Maya project at San Miguel, Toledo. This includes the Central River.

The company, in agreement, undertook to establish a minimum of 5 MW of hydro power in Toledo within 5 years. However, it was underscore that the onus is on BHD to apply for permits needed to undertake its work.

GOB claimed, in the document, that the project in in the interest of Toledo and Belize.

In Conejo/Santa Cruz Maya Land Rights Case of 2007, Gregorio Choc, Cristina Coc, and Martin Chen of the Maya Leaders Alliance had complained that the Government had granted a concession to BHD to dam the Rio Grande.

“In the Maya village of San Miguel, the company gained access to 250 acres of village land on which to conduct its activities, including building access roads for heavy machinery and a powerhouse. The villagers were not informed of the effects that this large-scale project will ultimately have on their village lands and traditional practices. Furthermore, consent of the village was not obtained, and no compensation was provided for this compulsory acquisition of Maya lands.”

The Maya of Toledo have an ongoing dispute with the Government of Belize over customary land rights in Toledo. A ruling in that Supreme Court case is pending.

YCT said that the organization had received complaints from villagers in the area that the existing dam, near San Miguel, has been having adverse effects on the river. Environmental authorities have not yet to investigate.

The following map is Ya’axché Property and was inserted in this column for visual aid:

Hydro Maya Dam Situation Toledo Map (291009)pt3

Map courtesy of Ya'axché Conservation Trust

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