Battle in Bladen Going to Supreme COurt

The following article is an extract from 7newsbelize.com
Date: 27th January 2010

There’s a battle brewing in the Bladen Nature Reserve in the Toledo District where its conservationists versus developers who are investigating the possibility of erecting a dam, reportedly on the Central River – which is a headwater source for many bodies of fresh water in the deep south.

And while the fight so far has been contained to Toledo, it is coming to Belize City – specifically to the Supreme Court. 7News has learned that the Yaxche Conservation Trust which co-manages the Bladen Nature reserve is in the process of filing a request for judicial review of a permit given to Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited to conduct research in Bladen. The judicial review filing was finalized this evening and should be lodged by tomorrow. IT argues that the research permit government granted to the Hydroelectric Development & Management Company was in violation of the terms of a nature reserve – which only permits research based on ecology, not for development purposes.

Yaxche says it is only doing this to preserve its legal position – but whatever the case it is a clear shot across the Government’s bow – which issued the permit. But before the permit was issued the hydro company went into this core conservation area with no official permission and started research – which meant clearing areas, m making trials and marking trees and rocks. That’s illegal – and under pressure from Yaxche – the forestry Department fined the company thirty-two thousand dollars. But fine or not – sections of the communities connected to Bladen and the Central River are outraged and concerned.

Those sentiments were captured in a documentary commissioned by Yaxche. It is 30 minutes long and offers a compelling insight into the community based issues – and more than that serves up a classic gotcha moment of Area Rep Juan Coy. Here are those excerpts.

Zenovia Requena, Resident – San Pedro Colombia
“Me I travel night and day in this river and I want no dam in this river because we drink the water, we have nowhere else to drink water. We have nothing more but this river. All the villages them drink water from this river. It is over a thousand people that drink water from this river; Crico Jute, San Jose, Pueblo Viejo, Nah Lun Kan, and this Rio Blanco – all those people back of those villages drink from the river because the river has a lot of branches, a lot of veins which run to meet up with the other rivers and that is why this will mess up whole of the place and with this river they should do nothing, nothing at all because that will affect this river bad.”

Question,
“What will happen if the water level goes down?”

Zenovia Requena,
“It will get dry and where will we go and get water.”

Interviewer,
“We are saying this concession agreement is directly under your jurisdiction, you are the Area Rep. of Toledo West. This concession agreement was signed by the Hon. Dean Barrow on December 5th 2008.”

Hon. Juan Coye, Toledo West Area Rep.
“With regards to the concession agreement, I don’t have any idea about that.”

Interviewer,
“Do you have a copy of the document?”

Hon. Juan Coye,
“Where I saw a copy of the document was when Yaxche was doing a presentation at a public meeting at the school.”

Interviewer,
“And so you are saying that you did not know anything about the concession agreement?”

Hon. Juan Coye,
“No.”

Interviewer,
“Were you consulted about the concession agreement, were you asked for your opinion?”

Hon. Juan Coye,
“Not at all. Let me say that the Prime Minister in his capacity has all authority; likewise the Minister of Natural Resources. It is true to the extent that it is my jurisdiction but these are people who have the final say.”

Narrator,
“A fact finding trip into the reserves was organized by a village committee of San Pedro Colombia in connection with Yaxche, the co-manager of Bladen Forest Reserve and the Belize Defense Force.”

Man,
“Basically it is an educational field trip that the committee has embarked on. Presently we are in the upper Esperanza River, we’ve gone up several kilometers from here heading up into the headwaters and encountered at least seven major waterfalls.

We found out from one of the persons that was actually guarding one of the developers’ camp that there is presently a number of about ten workers that are conducting the research work on the Esperanza River. As Mr. Cruz said we managed to get up to number 52 and obviously at that point we found that there was recent trafficking in terms of human footprints.”

Michael Cus,
“The human trafficking here is very high observed mainly through horsetracks in the area and the presence of human can clearly be seen due to the many trails within the jungle itself caused by xateros hunting for xatero leaves. Hunting I believe is very common in the area by the xateros. It is quite hard to say what type of animals are being hunted but I have seen feathers along the route and also expended cartridges, 20 gauge and what not expended shells along the road. I noticed during the entire route I didn’t see any major game animal such as wild peccary or deer or at least ocelot, I didn’t see anything or a little margot, no sign of wildlife. Last night we found a xateros camp with three xateros. Yesterday when we got to Bladen Nature Reserve we observed seven animals in the area, grazing on the helipad next to the camp where the developers actually are camping.”

A few points. First, you saw Juan Coy flatly deny any knowledge of the concessions agreement – well three weeks ago Housing Minister Michael Finnegan said on his Lik Road talk show that was simply not true – that Coy did know. Second, while the hydroelectric company has been fined $32,000, our information suggests that the fine has not been paid. This evening, the Ministry of Natural Resources said we had called too late and the payment position on the fine could not be verified.

Third, we understand that subsequent to a meeting between conservation and community groups with the Minister of Natural Resources, reports say a stop order has been issued and the “research work has ceased for the time being. That is unconfirmed. Fourth, a commitment has reportedly been made for an investigation will be conducted with conservation and community groups and the Forestry Department.

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