A Butchered Purchase
The ongoing drama of Roatan finally getting a new hospital has hit another low note. While the Roatan Municipality paid off the eight acre hospital site on a hilltop in Dixon Cove, the remaining 20 acres are at risk. Originally, the site was envisioned for a municipal stadium for 7,000 people, but Roatan Municipality is at risk of defaulting on the property without having even secured right-of-way access to the hospital site.
The 28-acre Dixon Cove purchase was the single biggest land purchase in the history of Roatan Municipality. In June 2007 then-mayor Dale Jackson agreed to pay Lps. 19 million ($1 million), or $36,000 an acre, in 36 monthly payments. However the Jackson administration did not pay off the land as scheduled and with Lps. 6 million still owed to property owner Sarah Jarvis James, the 20-acre property is in default and could be reclaimed by its owner.
James purchased the land as a “domino plano” from the Roatan Municipality in 1992 and, according to lawyer Melvin Rosales, “paid only 10% of the 80,000 Lempiras for it.” Four years later she was offered Lps. 19 million for it. Rosales, in 2008 has placed a denuncia against Mayor Jackson, and Sarah James as accessory. “They [Municipality] could have found much better land, closer to the main road and flatter. We didn’t need to pay excessive price for it,” said Rosales. Indeed, much of the land in Dixon Cove is on a 30% slope, difficult to get to, to built on, and expensive to grade.
The hastily done purchase has not only placed municipal dollars at risk, it has also delayed and greatly complicated the future of a new 120 bed Roatan hospital. International airlines demand the hospital, expat retirees want it, and 65,000 islanders count on it to ensure the island’s future growth and prosperity. Fulfillment of this need has been delayed and placed in jeopardy.
Hardly anything in the purchase was done correctly. The Roatan Municipality didn’t advertise that it was looking for a suitable piece of land to give other landowners the opportunity to offer better land and better prices. Road access to the land chosen was never secured in writing.
Mayor Jackson said that he purchased the property as an “emergency purchase” allowing him to circumvent the public bid process and approval of the entire Roatan municipal corporation. Public bid is required when items considered for purchase are over Lps. 1.7 million. While Mayor Jackson acted with the advice of the Municipal lawyer, it looks like that advice was misguided.
“Dale [Jackson] started construction using his equipment two days after closing [June 2007] on the property,” said Gary Evans, a property owner of Bay Islands Environmental Equipment Rental in Dixon Cove. According to Mayor Jackson, SERNA issued an environmental license for the project on February 6, 2009. However, for almost two years prior, the site work proceeded without national SERNA permits, with dozens of large trees cut, roughly 75,000-100,000 cubic yards of soil removed from the site and the entire Dixon gully rerouted. “It was all about the Dale Jackson stadium for Arsenal [football club]; the hospital was just a secondary thing,” said Evans.
Extensive erosion from the site has allowed silt to be carried directly into Dixon’s Cove. “As usual, there was no independent authority to oversee the project. The Municipal authorities were able to issue their own permit, contract the work to be performed, and then wash their hands of responsibility for the consequences. It’s like having a fox watching the henhouse.” said Charles George, who for over 17 years has been operating Vegas Electric on a neighboring property.
An audit of the Roatan Municipality by Honduras’ Tribunal de Cuentas took place in January and February, and while its findings have not yet been released, several Roatan Municipal city council members that signed the Dixon Cove purchase agreement feel they are now in “hot water.”
While the eight acre land site was eventually secured for the hospital, the road access to it was not. Evans is considering legal action to regain ownership and control over 20 foot by 320 foot land piece that is the only way to access the Municipal and hospital land. Evans also claims ownership of two of the 20 acres Roatan Municipality attempted to purchased from Sarah James. These two acres happen to overlap the road access constructed to the hospital piece.
As a last chance for Roatan municipality, according to Mayor Julio Galindo, Sarah Jarvis James agreed in writing to give Roatan Municipality extra time, until December 2010, to pay the remaining balance of the transaction. If that does not happen, the Municipal land will default back to James and the Lps. 13 million already spent on the purchase as well as additional moneys spent on the grading will be lost.
The funds for constructing the hospital are there. Over the last several years funding for the hospital has changed from the South Korean government to Banco Interamericano de Integration Economica. Currently, Mayor Galindo says that the President Lobo administration has set aside $28 million for the construction of the Roatan Hospital. The funds came from a forgiven loan repayment by the Spanish government. For now, if all goes well, groundbreaking is scheduled for March 2011. [/private]