The Columbia River Forest Reserve & Bladen Nature Reserve Committee in conjunction with the Forest Department participated in a field assessment of the Belize Hydroelectric Development activities. The assessment was conducted from February 9th to 13, 2010. The main objective of the operation was to monitor compliance of the permit issued to Belize Hydroelectric Development and Management Company Ltd by the Forestry Department to conduct research studies in the area. 
The team documented two archeological sites that had been looted (2 big holes were excavated on the sites) located about 75 meters from where the BHD main camp is located. It was evident that the sites were excavated within the last two months. There were numerous pieces of pottery and carvings among other broken pieces of archeological material; all were photographed and a GPS reading recorded. It was observed that helicopters had landed at four separate locations within the Bladen Nature Reserve. One of the helipad is located above the main waterfalls on a sand bar on a wide section of the Central River. Trees had been cleared (cut down) to accommodate the landing of a helicopter. Another Landing site was located on one of the meanders of the Central River surrounded by a large, recently burned area. Also within this same area is a camp site utilized by BHD. The helipad had markings (traces on the soil) resembling that of a helicopter landing mechanism indicating that a helicopter had landed at the site. Soil erosion was also visible as large trees were cut down using chainsaws and removed from the area surrounding the landing site. At one main cleared camp site along the Central River graffiti was written on a tree, as well as on large rocks on the river bank. There was a general disregard for maintaining the environment of the area at several camp sites, with trash strewn about, including the Esperanza main camp where pieces of PVC pipes were observed.

The committee at a meeting held on March 21, 2010 at the San Pedro Columbia Community Center presented these findings to the community members. Based on the finding the committee is of the opinion that Belize Hydroelectric Development and Management Ltd. (BHD) has severely breached the conditions of the “Research Permit” for activity within the Columbia River Forest Reserve (CRFR) and Bladen Nature Reserve (BNR), causing irreversible damage to areas of extreme biological, social and archeological importance. Furthermore, it must be noted the legitimacy of the research permit issued to BHD by the Forestry Department on October 28, 2009 is going to be reviewed in the Supreme Court of Belize in May 2010.
Therefore, the Committee proposes that the Government of Belize, through the relevant agencies and organizations, install a mechanism for the reduction of access to the area and increased protection to the area through a stronger security presence. The committee also requests that the Government of Belize issues an official public statement on the status of the hydro dam project. This official statement is imperative in light of the Hon. Juan Coy’s statements at the recent community meeting where he emphatically stated that the developer has communicated to the government that the project is not feasible and as a result no Dam will be constructed. Our communities are of the view that these statements are outright misleading and meant to undermine the committee. This is particularly convincing since the Hon. Coy is calling for the dissolution of the Columbia River Forest Reserve & Bladen Nature Reserve Committee on the basis that NO DAM will be constructed. We remain committed to safeguarding the social and natural wellbeing of our communities and look forward to an official response from the Government of Belize.

One of the two 
sites that were looted


Pieces of Maya pottery observed 
at the Maya Ruins that were looted


One of the four Helicopter 
landing sites cleared by BHD


The following article is an extract from:
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.