The following article is an extract from:
Source: Amandala.bz
Date: 19/02/2010
Author: Adele Ramos


On Wednesday afternoon Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh gave Ya’axche Conservation Trust (YCT), the co-manager of the Bladen Nature Reserve, permission for a judicial review of a decision by the Forest Department to issue a research permit to a hydro-development company to undertake preliminary studies inside the Bladen Nature Reserve and the Colombia River Forest Reserve.

YCT’s executive director Lisel Alamilla has contended that the permit is not really a research permit, since it was granted to a company scoping the area with an eye to pursuing further hydro development on the Rio Grande.
 
The company in question, Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited (BHD), has an existing dam, the Hydro Maya dam, in the area.

Toledo villagers had complained to YCT back in July that workers of the hydro company had cleared portions of both the Colombia Forest Reserve and the Bladen Nature Reserve without having gotten the required approval, respectively from the Forestry Department and the Department of the Environment.

An official assessment by YCT and Government officials confirmed the reports and also led to the discovery of a helicopter landing site. This week YCT reported that there have been a total of four helicopter landing sites in the area.

The total damage, as assessed by YCT, is $125,000, which Alamilla informed would include charges for remediation works required to restore the damaged habitats.


Last October the Chief Forest Officer Wilber Sabido informed us that the Department was also fining the company $1,500, in addition to the $32,000 in damages.
 
In response to challenges by YCT, on Thursday, January 7, the Forest Department issued a cease and desist order to BHD.

Sabido told us Wednesday, while outside of court, that the order remains in effect. He said that the department had done an assessment over the weekend, and that report will be reviewed with all parties, including officials of his department, BHD and YCT. The cease and desist order remains in effect until then, so there is no need for a court injunction against BHD, Alamilla explained. 

YCT contends that granting the BHD a permit under the concession agreement, signed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow back in December 2008, amounts to a violation of the National Parks Systems Act, and is contrary to the intended purpose of a nature reserve.

In the substantive case, set to go before the court on May 6, YCT’s attorney Magali Marin is expected to argue that point, as well as ask for BHD to pay the $125,000 that YCT has assessed for damages within the protected area.

Broader issues may also be fleshed out, such as questions over the authority of the Chief Forest Officer to issue the research permit to BHD, the purpose of a nature reserve, and who is really responsible for administrating it.
 
The court case is against the Forest Department and the Attorney General of Belize; however, Dr. Conteh has asked that BHD, being an affected party, be invited to join the suit as an interested party.

 


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