Public Hearing on Bocas "Mega Marina" Cancelled
Tuesday, December 30 2008 @ 08:18 AM EST
Contributed by: Don Winner
Editor's Comment: First of all, its blatantly obvious La Prensa as an institution has lost all sense of journalistic integrity when it comes to environmental issues. The newspaper is clearly, 100% on the side of the environmentalist extremists. I'm highlighting his fact just so the reader can be aware of their apparent bias. You should read La Prensa reporting on environmental issues through the appropriate lenses and filters. In any case, FYI.
About The Marina: With regards to this project, actually called the "Harbor of the Americas", this proposal is being put together by the Six Diamonds organization, headed by Richard Kiibler and Frank Delape. Personally, I'm all for the development and future prosperity of the province of Bocas del Toro in general and the islands of Isla Colon and the other areas ripe for tourist development in particular. Large marinas have been built and are being operated in an environmentally friendly way all over the Caribbean, so I know it's possible to do. What's more, boaters are usually the first people to defend the general health of the oceans, reefs, coral, beaches, wildlife, and fisheries - they tend to be very eco-friendly. As for me, I'm generally in favor of all or most development and progress as long as the projects are built and operated in an environmentally responsible manner (with the appropriate oversight and controls.) Building an operating a large marina in this kind of an environmental setting is eminently possible to do in a manner that's safe, correct, environmentally friendly, with a minimal impact on the surrounding coral and reefs.
"Environmentally Fragile?" Huh? We're talking about the Bay of Saigon off of the backside of the airport, right? I wonder if any reporters from La Prensa have been up there to slosh around in the water, lately. From what I understand it's actually one of the areas of Isla Colon that has been relatively neglected over the years from an environmental point of view. That's a really nice way to say "open sewage" but what do I know. My guess is that the construction of a large marina in the area would have a net positive impact on the overall environmental health of the area.
About The Draw on Infrastructure: Forrest Walker called me the other day, and his concerns were mostly about the draw a 450+ slip marina would have on the infrastructure grid, both power and water. We talked about it, and in the end supplying power to this project would fall to the power company - the semi-private company that makes their money by selling electrical power to those who need it. If the developers of the Harbor of the Americas can go to the electrical company with solid and approved plans and if the marina is actually going to be built and become a reality, then (obviously) the power company could simultaneously upgrade the local power production and distribution network to be able to meet the new anticipated demand created by their new customers. I mean, there would be time to build both. The marina would not be popping out of the coral overnight - the electrical company would have plenty of time to put in whatever upgrades are needed. That's what growth and expansion is all about - the infrastructure has to grow along with and next to everything else in order to meet the growing demand. The same thing goes for IDAAN and the fresh water supply. Problems are only created when the two get out of synchronization, and those issues are resolved through interdisciplinary communication and coordination. I mean, this isn't rocket science. The infrastructure in Bocas del Toro is basically marginal in some aspects precisely because in many ways the providers have not been sufficiently motivated to spend the money on upgrades. Maybe a "mega-marina" will motivate them to make some fundamental improvements.
About Raisa Banfield: I would ask Raisa Banfield, one of Panama's most hard-core environmental activists who's just outright "against" everything, to define under what circumstances she would approve of any kind of development on Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro. I mean, Raisa lives in Panama City and it's really easy for her to call for the outright rejection of this (or any other) development project in Panama. One thing I know for sure about Raisa - she loves the attention and spotlight and she loves to get her name in the paper. But, I wonder about her ability to find a balance between nature and development, in an area of science dominated by technical specialists who deeply understand the need to mitigate risk while simultaneously allowing for growth and economic expansion and development, primarily for the greater social wellbeing. I mean, it's very easy to be a knee-jerk "anti" everything for environmental reasons just because I happen to be in love with tree bark. But, Bocas del Toro will never realize its full potential as a tourism destination as long as pliable local politicians fear the news cameras and sensationalist headlines more than the wrath of mildly starving voters.
About The Hearing: I called and spoke to one of their attorneys who works with this company this morning to ask the obvious question; "Why cancel the public hearing?" They met with the chief legal advisor for the ANAM, Harley Mitchell Jr. on 24 December 2008, and holding a public hearing to gauge local sentiments with regards to support or resistance is part of the required process in order to apply for and obtain an Environmental Impact Statement as well as to obtain approvals and authorizations from a host of other agencies and organizations, including the AMP. As a matter of fact, there will be a need for a series of public meetings and hearings, mostly to just let the local community know what the company is planning to do, formally and officially present the plan and details of the operation, to give the public the opportunity to raise questions and to voice their concerns, and to (hopefully and eventually) gain the support of the majority of the local community. The concept is simple - if it's a "good" project that will bring greater benefits to the majority of the people living in the area, then it would logically be in their best interest to support the construction of the project.
Remember the Dolphin Park? A couple of years ago there was a group of people who were going to build a kind of water park for recreation and education, and as a central theme they were going to have a dolphin petting thing. The environmentalists (supported by more biased reporting in La Prensa) eventually managed to kill the project, and the guys who were going to invest literally tens of millions of dollars in the local community (up around Chame somewhere if memory serves) eventually gave up and folded their tents. While all of that was going on, the residents in the local community were actively protesting in favor of the project and against the environmentalists. They wanted the development money that would have been spent on construction, the long term jobs and employment opportunities, as well as a shot at the secondary and indirect positive economic impact such a project would have brought to the region. Now, the project is dead as a dolphin in captivity, and the local residents are sitting right where they were before the whole controversy started - on their asses and unemployed. Golly, thanks, environmentalists. So nice to have you come to the neighborhood for like, 20 minutes. Now, we're eating dolphins, by the way, because it's better than starving...
So, Why Cancel The Public Hearing? It seems this company just kinda got caught in the headlights a little. In reality there was no good reason to cancel the public hearing - the lawyer I spoke to didn't know but was going to find out and get back to me. I'm also guessing that given the headlines in La Prensa they probably decided it would be better to slow-roll things a little, to take their time in order to avoid any accusations of trying to do this hearing during the holiday season when no one is looking or something like that. Better to pay attention to the (negative) press and take every possible action to address all of those issues.
Back To La Prensa and Bias: If you take a hard look at this article in La Prensa, the headline translates as "They Suspend the Mega Marina and the AMP Asks For An Explanation." There are several questionable issues just in that headline. First of all, the AMP simply said in this article that they would be doing their job - to review the project once all of the requirements are completed for the ANAM and the Environmental Impact Study. Obviously, the AMP is not going to approve the construction or operation of a marina in Bocas del Toro that has not already been signed off by ANAM. And when asked, the AMP simply said "we're going to evaluate the project" as they would any project built anywhere in the entire country. La Prensa turned twisted that into making it look like the AMP was out hunting for heads or something. In fact, La Prensa is developing a solid reputation of going for the jugular on every development or project that would bend even one blade of grass, rather than allowing the competent authorities who have been tasked with overseeing and managing development to do their jobs. I wonder just how "green" La Prensa's operation is, and would it stand up to the same rigorous environmental scrutiny. Just a thought. Whatever, just realize that when you're reading La Prensa and it's an environmental issue, they are heavily biased against. Enough said.
Expect More On This Marina: Six Diamonds, Richard Kiibler, and Frank Delape have a knack for finding their way into the middle of the dust storm, one way or the other. One thing is for sure - you can expect to be hearing much more about this project as it's examined, planned, reviewed, scrutinized, and checked for ticks. And knowing the Bocas del Toro operating environment like I do where the local mayor walks around wearing a $20,000 dollar watch, you can bet anyone whose signature is required will be "squeezing" their pint of juice out of this operation - unfortunately that's simply the way things work in Panama in general and in Bocas del Toro in particular. So, I'll be hearing much more about them and so will you, as we ride along the bumpy slip-and-slide to the eventually construction of this project or, possibly, the crash and burn thanks to the meddling of "activists" who really just want to see their names in the paper. If I wanted to interview a community about environmental impact, I thing I will start by returning to the area where that dolphin park was going to be built and start there.
(My Comments End, Article Continues)
The Chief of Evaluation and Environmental Ordering of the ANAM, Bolivar Zambrano, limited himself to saying the project is under evaluation and analysis; "We have not approved their environmental impact study." Raisa Banfield, Director of the Center of Environmental Incidence, insisted that authorities should definitively reject the mega marina project.
LA OBRA PERMITIRÍA LA LLEGADA DE 435 YATES A UNA ZONA AMBIENTALMENTE FRÁGIL EN BOCAS DEL TORO
Suspenden megamarina y AMP pide explicación
El administrador de la AMP dijo que la empresa no puede construir en isla Colón, y aceptó que han tenido presiones de grupos económicos.
RAFAEL E. BERROCAL R.
La consulta que buscaba conseguir el aval ciudadano para la construcción de una megamarina para 435 embarcaciones en la Bahía de Saigón, en isla Colón, fue suspendida ayer luego que este diario advirtiera del problema.
De acuerdo con los ambientalistas, el proyecto llamado Harbor of America afectará una zona ambientalmente frágil, y estaría ubicado en medio de una zona protegida y sobre arrecifes coralinos ya identificados.
La Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente (Anam) dijo ayer que la empresa nunca coordinó con su regional en Bocas del Toro la realización de este foro público, pero no entró en detalles sobre el impacto ambiental que tendría el proyecto en la zona.
En contraste, el administrador de la Autoridad Marítima de Panamá (AMP), Fernando Solórzano, dijo que ha solicitado más información sobre el polémico proyecto, y que no le dará la concesión definitiva a esta empresa hasta que se hagan todas las evaluaciones ambientales.
Solórzano explicó que Harbor of America solo tiene una autorización previa, la cual no le permite construir nada en el área hasta que termine la revisión de su caso.
También aceptó que detrás de esta megamarina hay intereses económicos extranjeros que están presionando para que se apruebe, pero afirmó que eso no será posible hasta que se “evalúen todas las circunstancias”.
El jefe de Evaluación y Ordenamiento Ambiental de la Anam, Bolívar Zambrano, se limitó a decir que el proyecto está bajo evaluación y análisis: “no le hemos aprobado su estudio de impacto ambiental”.
Raisa Banfield, directora del Centro de Incidencia Ambiental, instó a las autoridades a rechazar de manera definitiva el proyecto de la megamarina.