monthly news magazine for
Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

October, 2004 Vol.2 No. 12
 
Calendar Style
feature story / editorial / local news / business

words and illustrations by Thomas Tomczyk

SAVING THE ISLANDS FROM OURSELVES
Controversial and extensive new law proposed for the Bay Islands aims to control growth and protect the environment. The manner of doing business and living on the Islands is about to change. Or, is it?

The proximity of the reef to land makes the Roatan marine environment especially vulnerable to pollution, whether in the form of sediment or waste. The reef in Belize is, in most cases, miles from scarcely populated coast, bay islands reef system is sometimes less than 100 meters from shore.
The government of Honduras finds itself in the delicate position of trying to legislate laws that would both preserve the fragile environment of the islands and keep the local tourist and land development economy booming. Honduras could be only the second country in Central America that developed a land management law for at least a part of its territory. The law for the Bay Islands is expected to be eventually followed by similar laws specific to other parts of the country: Sula valley, Atlantida, etc.
A new law is under proposal to replace the "Acuerdo No.2" that has set the rules on construction and growth of the Bay Islands since the early 1990s. The new document addresses issues from construction setbacks to use of plastic bottles. It will likely impact all business and people making a living in the Department.
Just as fragile as the Bay Island's ecosystem is its balance of tourism business profitability. Island economy is dependent and sensitive to the ever-changing regional tourism trends, hurricane patterns, global security concerns, US and local legislation.

Passing laws in a third world country is different then in the US or Europe. The laws in developing countries sometimes overshoot their intentions to compensate for the lack of on the ground control, law enforcement and absence of complementary local laws. The key, however, is the reduced ability of enforcing the laws.
"I've seen things change when a political law was introduced. It hurt the economy for three years. And after it was taken off ,it took another eight to get us back where we started," said John Edwards, owner of Century 21 Bay Islands, about his experience at Ambergris Cay, Belize.
Even though the proposed law has been in the making for a number of years, its recent draft has been triggered by the augmenting lawsuit that was presented in front of procurator general of the environment. Several lawsuits against developments on the Bay Islands have also paralyzed two of four municipals that have all but suspended giving out construction permits, fearing backlash from central government.
"Municipalities don't have environmental authority," said Dr. Jose Guillermo Flores Rodas, director of PMAIB. "There is only one authority on building on the islands or coast lines: SERNA. They are the only ones authorized to give environmental license. Municipalities can give a building license, but you still have to respect the environmental permits given by SERNA."

According to Enoc Burgos, coordinator of PMAIB Protected Areas Project, 30-40 people attended a two day workshop on August 5 and 6 in Tegucigalpa which included eight people from SERNA, five from Ministerio de Gobernacion and two from PMAIB. Representing the Bay Islands were the four mayors, Romeo Silvestri from CANATURH, Rita Morris from Chamber of Commerce. To concentrate on more specific issues, the panel was randomly divided into four working panels to concentrate on the issues of immigration, coral reef protection, zoning, etc. A 44 article proposal was created and submitted for review to business community.
After the draft making session in Tegucigalpa, many Bay Islands businesses and politicians felt excluded from the lawmaking process. "I am surprised I didn't get an invitation," said Governor Clinton Everett, "They need to sit down with us and talk this over." Why more Bay Islands businesspeople weren't invited to participate isn't clear. "The government isn't stupid to create laws that would throw-out investors," said Burgos, "the Bay Islands don't belong to the developers, they belong to everyone."
The proposal is expected to pass into law not through congress, but by presidential decree- a more rapid lawmaking process avoiding the scrutiny of congress. "We can do a lot of things to stop it, as long as we work together," said Emilio Silvestri. "I am opposed to this document until a feasibility study is made to assess the economic impact of this law on the Bay Islands," said John Edwards. "This legislation would stop, or at least hamper the businesses on the islands."
According to Alex Villela, an attorney with seven years experience in Tegucigalpa and Roatan, there are two ways of trying to legally stop a project law. One option is to lobby congressmen to oppose the law, or file a complaint in the Supreme Court claiming that part of the law is unconstitutional. Four entities that have legal initiative are: the president and his ministers, congress, the supreme court and the elections tribunal.
To voice their frustrations at the proposed law, about 40 realtors and business people met at the Parrot Tree meeting room on Tuesday, September 7. The meeting accentuated the frustration and anxiety of the Roatan business community, not sure about the speed and implications of the law. "It's not only an anti-gringo law. This thing is anti-everybody law," said Shawn Hyde, general manager of Mariscos Hybur.
There was also criticism of the law in part excluding the rapidly growing areas like Los Fuertes. "They are excluding the communities that need most help. They neglect the barrios. They don't want to deal with it," said Edwards.
The meeting produced a plan to lobby Thierry Pierrefeu, Honduran Minister of Tourism. A group of Roatan businessmen and politicians traveled to Tegucigalpa on September 14 and presented a list of alternative points that would "lessen the negative impact of the law on businesses."
With all the reluctance to introduce any changes to Bay Island zoning laws, business and local government have been making demands for aggressive legislation to limit migration to the island department. Potentially, the most explosive part of the proposed legislation is Chapter XIII- migration. The submitted draft didn't include any details of the issue, but restriction of access of any Hondurans to Bay Islands is so sensitive that it could spark a national debate.
"Any law that provides restrictions to that movement is unconstitutional," said Dr. Flores. "San Andres [Colombia] is a protected area. If you call something a protected area, you will need to have even more restrictions on growth."
Many investors are concerned that the parcels of land they purchased will lose value. Some beachfront lots are only 50 meters deep and with new building restrictions limiting construction on the 40 meters and with a road setback of another 5 meters, the opportunities to erect a building all but vanish. So does the potential land value.
The height restrictions for building only below 150 meters (200 meters on Guanaja) above sea level will have minimal effect on building construction. The tallest hill on Utila is only 74 meters above sea level. The existing houses on Roatan's Cohoon ridge and around Juticalpa are located at only 80 to 110 meters above sea level, well below the proposed cut-off line. Still, the Roatan business community countered the ministry of Tourism proposal asking the limits to be raised to 200 meters on Roatan and 250 on Guanaja. There are only three hills taller than 200 meters on Roatan. Picacho hill being the tallest at 235 meters.
Through its research programs and protection efforts, Program for Environmental Management of the Bay Islands (PMAIB) has been key in formulating the proposed law. PMAIB has been working on the island since 1998 and, in the first phase of its effort, the organization conducted almost 150 studies on the catastro, natural resources management, strengthening of local institutions and basic sanitation. As part of phase one, basic infrastructure projects were introduced: the Coxen Hole sewage treatment plant, potable water systems and septic tanks in French Harbour and Coxen Hole and Oak Ridge. PMAIB received a $22 million loan from IDB for the first phase of the project.


In July 2003, PMAIB began its second phase of its work. To fund this phase, PMAIB received a cocktail of funds amounting to $16.8 million. $1.8 Million came from Government of Honduras (grant originating from Government of Taiwan); $12.5 million has came as a secured loan from Inter-American Development Bank and another $2.5 million is pending and will be a grant from GEF. According to Sandra de Midence, Executive Director for IDB for Central America, Honduras received $90 million of IDB loans in 2003 and its current debt to IDB is $1.3 billion. These are 40 year loans, with 1% interest charged for first 10 years, then 2%.
Suspicion of PMAIB motives was expressed by some business people. "We will lose $300 million to get $16 million that will be wasted on PMAIB," said John Edwards. "PMAIB- they cost us more harm than good," said Julio Galindo, owner of Anthony's Key Resort. "Some regulations, I agree. We need to regulate a little bit." Some voices noted the clearly positive parts of the proposal. "Density, ground coverage [regulations]. Yes. There are some good things in there," said Edwards.
PMAIB is walking the fine line of studying the deteriorating conditions of the Bay Islands ecology, proposing measures to limit these changes and trying to educate the business community in becoming more ecology conscious.
To fund the maintenance of 12 proposed protected areas and other programs, PMAIB wants to access money paid in taxes during land sales, money that currently leaves the island for Tegucigalpa. Further, a $20 per person tourist tax is envisioned for long-term tourist along with smaller tax for short-term cruise ship tourists.
A new organization has been created to create long term environmental and tourism policies for the department. Executive Commission of Sustainable Tourism (Comisión Ejecutiva de Turismo Sostenible or CETS) was established in 2002 and is headed by Minister Pierrefeu.
CETS brings together representatives from government and private sectors:
Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Tourism, PMAIB, Governor Clinton Everett, Congressman Evans McNab, Bay Islands mayors: Jerry Hynds, Alton Cooper, Kerby Ducker, Eddy Tatum. Business people: Estella Miller from Guanaja, Arlie Thompson from JSG, Alfred Cooper from Utila, Eldon Hyde from Roatan; plus honorary members: Rita Morris representing Chamber of Commerce and Romeo Silvestri representing CANATURH. So far, CETS has been meeting every three months to discuss matters at hand, but the organization is to take over more of the PMAIB responsibilities and eventually grow in importance.

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The Bay Islands Goose Law by Thomas Tomczyk

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B.I. University Skips a Semester to Perfect its Image

After four semesters of Bay Islands University has decided to temperately suspend classes to concentrate on fulfilling the remaining requirements needed for its accreditation. "We were expected to stop and get our things in order," said Pastor Perry.
The registration at the Bay Islands University dropped from 100 students in Spring 2003 to 70 and finally to 48 in the spring 2004 semester. With no students registered and no revenue coming in the paying of salaries to remaining University staff is especially difficult. The situation was helped by local support. "Jerry Hynds is working hard to make sure that our finances are covered during this period," said Perry.
In late June two members of the Directorate of Higher Education visited the university to inspect the facilities. The inspection team issued a report pointing out some maintenance issues and recommending eight areas of that needed improvement:
1. Improving the condition of at least four classrooms.
2. Improve the quality of administrative offices.
3. Locating a permanent, exclusive library for university students with study cubicles and internet access. The library should have 300 book titles and 10 journal/magazine subscription for each career accredited.
4. Professors should have accredited degrees.
5. Expand the number of audio visual aids.
6. Placing a check-in window at the registrar's office.
7. Keep the university space clean and uncluttered.
8. Organize basic services for students: orientation, academic advisor, health.
The document was issued on August 3 and sent to Bay Islands University.
University board of directors met on August 9 to discuss the accreditation status and decided to suspend classes until January 2005. To clarify the final steps needed for the accreditation, a group of nine Roatan businesspeople and politicians traveled to Tegucigalpa on August 11, and met with Luis Barahona, director of higher education in Honduras. According to pastor Perry, they received assurances that all needed for the accreditation to be completed is the fulfillment of recommendations. "We are hoping to do this before January," said Pastor Perry. "Both the University's legal status and career programs are already approved."

In the midst of filming musical group Puro Sol in Palmetto Resort on August 22.
Connie Wrights has studied four semesters of Engineering Systems at Bay Islands University. "I was 'freeking-out' about not knowing what was going to happen with the accreditation of classes I was taking," said Wrights. "I calmed down after we had a meeting with the University administration." In December Wrights is planning on enrolling at Universidad Pedagogica de Honduras in La Ceiba to continue her education, but wants to continue taking classes at the BI University at the same time.
The local community already responded to the university needs. Ms. Marlene Jackson, founder and chief librarian of the French Harbour Memorial Library, has agreed to set part of her library for university use. Still, the Bay Islands University is appealing to anyone interested in donating books and equipment needed for the accreditation: slide projector, DVD player, VHS player, etc. Tel. 455-5927
PROTECTING THE ISLANDS
Dr. Jose Guillermo Flores Rodas, 59, holds a degree in BS in Forestry, MA and PhD in Natural Resources Economics from University of Washington in Seattle. In 1975 he was one of the founding members of the National School of Forest Science in Ciguatepece. He was the head of the Honduran Corporation of Forest Development (COHDEFOR) between 1979 and 1981. He worked with UNDP and FAO in 10 different countries before coming back to Honduras in 1994 to take a job as consultant in natural resources policy for CHEMONICS corporation. Since 1998 he has been the director of PMAIB and shares his time between Tegucigalpa and Roatan. He is also the director of National Program for Sustainable Tourism and commissioner of COHDEFOR.

Bay Islands VOICE: Where did this new law proposal for the Bay Islands originate?
Dr. Jose Guillermo Flores Rodas: This is a reformulation of a previous law "Acuerdo No.2" that has been in effect since 1990s. Many of the things that have realtors, investors worried were in place before. There is nothing new about that. Whatever you do on the coast and whatever you do on the lagoon affects the very fragile ecosystem, the reef. Our [PMAIB] studies have shown that this is something that should worry all Bay Islanders and all Hondurans. You need to put some rules so that reef is sustainable and future generations can continue to enjoy it. The law attempts to put some order and some limits to development projects. Of course, this worries realtors. But realtors should also be worried about the future value of the land. If the reef deteriorates more rapidly because of undue development practices, the future land value will be zero. Sustainable development is whatever development you can do today without sacrificing the opportunities of tomorrow and this is precisely what this law is trying to do. Until now, the development practices have been very permissible. You see roads being washed away every winter and all that sediment affects the reef. We have seen the lack of sanitation systems. Before, when there were few people on the island, this had little effect on the reef, but now when you have a tremendous growth in development you need to put some rules on the ground. Otherwise, everybody will suffer the consequences of the reef deteriorating.
B.I.V.: Are similar land management laws in other departments of the country to follow?
Dr. J.G.R.: "Ley de ordenamiento territorial," this is a brand new law that attempts to put land use planning at the center of development and growth. It's an extremely good measure that Honduras has taken. These things are happening quicker in some places. For example, Sula Valley has some 19 or 20 municipalities that produce almost 50% of the national GDP. The law has originated a regional land-use planning board constituted by municipalities and civic organizations. They are adopting rules for development and conducting in-depth studies. (...) There are other areas that will come very soon into this law, especially land from La Ceiba to Omoa, Cortes. These are things that have happened in Europe a long time ago, land use planning and controlled growth for sustainable development.
B.I.V.: Is there another Centro American country that has adopted similar land laws?
Dr. J.G.R.: Costa Rica has adapted a law like this for the last 10-12 years. Being the most successful tourist destination in Central America, there was a lot of not very well controlled development. Manuel Antonio National Park had one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. It no longer is. Primarily, this is because hotels were allowed to be built right on the beach and that destroyed that beach. It is an example of something that really went bad in less then 20 years.

B.I.V.: How did that affect land values on Manuel Antonio beach?

Dr. J.G.R.: From being probably the most successful and most highly valued land in Costa Rica in early 1990, it has came down to very, very low prices. You see a lot of low income tourists coming onto that. This is a perfect example what we need to avoid here.
B.I.V.: During the working session in making a framework of this law the business people have been left out. Even Governor Clinton Everett wasn't invited to that session in Tegucigalpa. Why?
Dr. J.G.R.: The four mayors were invited. CANATURH was there. Chamber of Commerce was there. You can't invite everybody. You assume that you have representative organizations. Both CANATURH and Chamber of Commerce are representing businesses and investors. (…) This was a meeting organized by minister of tourism because there were a lot of problems. There are two agencies in control of the environment: Fiscalia del Ambiente and Procuradoria del Ambiente [attorney general and procurator general of the environment] and there were a number of lawsuits against developers and they were increasing every day. So the minister of tourism said 'We can't have this. Why don't we lay down some ground rules'. (…) Sometimes good intentions are misinterpreted and those were very good intentions on the part of minister of tourism. Environmental laws have been in Honduras since the 80s, and why not have regional laws that are adapted to regional environment. A lot of this [confusion] is due to the lack of knowledge of the legal system amongst developers. But ignorance is not an excuse. You have to know the legal system of a country where you are investing.
B.I.V.: Should the business community be involved more intimately in creating the framework of the law?
Dr. J.G.R.: In retrospective, everything is so much clearer. And maybe this is a case where this should apply. I think if it was a mistake, it was an honest mistake. These laws are restrictive, but the environment requires that. We all live on this planet and it is a very small planet. The environment is a public good, not a private good. (…) A lot of these things cannot be consulted, because nobody is going to say 'I accept that. I want to put restrictions on what I can do.'
B.I.V.: The 'migration' chapter in the law could be the most explosive. Why wasn't it outlined in the draft?
Dr. J.G.R.: The law of the land is the constitution. No law can violate the constitution. The constitution establishes the freedom of movement to all Hondurans. So any law that provides restrictions to that movement is unconstitutional. I'm not involved in formulating this law, but I'm sure if this [migration] law was included then the whole law become unconstitutional. (…) San Andres is a protected area. If you call something a protected, you will need to have even more restrictions on growth. We discussed this one time and this what I expressed as my opinion: 'If you want to, we can propose the Bay Islands as a protected area. But then you better watch out, because there are others laws that put much greater restrictions on growth and development.' If you take one, you have to accept the other.

WINNING FISH
In the Junior category, the "Shana Marie" of Roatan, captained by Derek Cooper, took first prize with 150 pounds of fish over the three days. The Ladies category, which consisted of a single boat, was won by the "Quality Time" of Roatan, captained by Delzie Rosales. Quality Time brought in 32 pounds of fish. This year's winner in the Adult category was the "Pal" from Utila, captained by Rick Swasey, bringing in a blue marlin weighing in at an eye-popping 242 pounds.
Crew members of the fishing boat, Pal, stand by their winning 242 lb. Blue Marlin. PHOTO: Erika Anderson

"Pal" crewmate Troy Bodden told of tracking the fish with a GPS "fish finder" at just before 7am on September 17. The crew followed the fish around the eastern portion of Utila and the marlin took the bait shortly after the initial sighting. The catch was complicated by several factors. First, the fish had taken the hook in the gill as opposed to the mouth. Secondly, the reel had become loose from the struggle. After 35 minutes of hand wringing and breath holding, the team persevered and the giant marlin was brought safely aboard. Mr. Bodden quipped that, more than anything, it was "pure sheer luck."
From the start of the tournament at Thursday morning's send off to the celebration after the trophy ceremony on Saturday evening, spectators and participants alike marveled at the success of the event. As this year's tournament drew to a close, Mr. D. V. Woods offered this message: "For all you bad luck guys, next year will be your year."

by Justin Kissinger

On the morning of September 16, captains and crew from all around Honduras gathered to take part in the fifth annual West End Fishing Tournament. This year's field of competitors featured 28 vessels, including entries from San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and Puerto Cortes. "It is good for tourism and brings people from all over the Bay Islands and Honduras to Roatan," said Head Judge Clint Bodden.
Hosted by Roatan Municipality, the tournament was organized into three categories: Adult (Co-ed), Ladies, and Junior. The Adult category was open to any male or co-ed groups over the age of 16, with the winner determined by point totals based on total weight of all fish caught and who caught the largest fish. The Ladies category was open to boats whose crew consisted of all female participants, though a male captain was allowed, and judged by the largest accumulation of points based on the total weight of all the fish they caught throughout the tournament. The Junior category, following the same rules as the Ladies group, consisted of co-ed crews age 8-16 and could have one person over the age of 16 as the captain.

2004 West End Fishing Tournament
CATEGORY
BOAT
PORT
CAPTAIN
CATCH
GRAND CHAMPION
PAL
La Ceiba
Richard Swasey
622 points
MEN 1st.
PAL
La Ceiba
Richard Swasey
242 Ib. Blue Marlin
WOMEN 1st.
Quality Time
Roatan
Delzie Rosales
32 lbs. Wahoo
JUNIOR 1st.
Shana Marie
Roatan
Denny Cooper
150 lbs. Barracuda
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FIBEROPTIC 4 U by thomas Tomczyk
Bay Islanders receive a glimpse of 21 century telecommunication technologies

Currently there are about 4,000 telephone subscribers on Roatan and 1,400 subscribers on both Utila and Guanaja. After the Siemens project will be completed the capacity for the Bay Islands will peak at 11,900: Roatan will have 8,000 subscribers and Utila and Guanaja 1,450 each.
Hondutel's 14 employees on Roatan, five on Utila and four on Guanaja are working in conjunction with Siemens. Hondutel is replacing all five Bay Island telephone centers. Smaller telephone centers in West Bay, Sandy Bay, Colonia Los Maestros, Los Fuertes, and Gunaja's Punta Caliente are being installed and new three digit telephone codes will have to be used there.

"The deployment of fiber optics is the biggest thing on the Bay Islands since the introduction of wireless to the island," said Mitch Cummins, owner of Paradise Computers. "It will expand everybody's potential." The revamped telephone system on the Bay Islands will offer Caller ID, DSL, call waiting and voice mail. "Demand for new lines is high," said Roberto Romero, Hondutel department chief for Bay Islands. Expected prices of opening new lines are fixed: new residential line will cost Lps. 492 and business line- Lps. 1,052.
Some businesses remain skeptical about the promised potential of the new technology. "It would be imprudent for any company to change their whole infrastructure based on what 'could happen.' It's just a fact of life here. We can plan for it but we won't act till it's all in place," said Cummins, who is also the Globalnet distributor on Roatan.
"We had problems in finding heavy equipment transport methods on the island," said Ing. Aristizabal. Working on the main roads in high traffic areas was also a challenge. Siemens currently employs 107 people in project construction in the department: 20 on Utila, three on Guanaja- where work, and 84 on Roatan. On Roatan, seven brigades of ten people each have been putting up a fiber optic spine. Coordinating the work are 12 Siemens engineers. Once work is completed, six local people will be trained to maintain and troubleshoot the fiber optic grid and towers.
RECO agreed to let Siemens use its posts for running the fiber optic cable. Still, since some of the posts are not of sufficient quality and the Siemens line doesn't always follow RECO lines, 50 new posts are being erected.
Eventually the old copper telephone wire will be taken down and recycled. The Christmas-Tree appearance of the Roatan posts will be no more.

Bay Island roads are teeming with crews pulling wire. Siemens began the work on replacing the old, obsolete telephone system with state of the art technology in June and the company expects the project to be completed in October. Only then, Bay Islanders will be able to notice improvement in the telephone service.
"We're doing something what we've done for Yucatan two-three years ago," said Siemens Ing. William Aristizabal, coordinator of the project. Siemens is currently undertaking similar fiber optic projects in Tegucigalpa, San Lorenzo and Choluteca.
On Roatan 65 kilometers of fiber optic spine is being hanged: from West Bay to Diamond Rock. Another 75 kilometers of copper wire will be used to connect individual accounts to the fiber optic spine. This combination of copper, fiber optic and microwave towers is expected to provide a DSL service of 128K. Basic DSL lines will allow internet access for more remote places at speeds 14-30K, depending on the distance from a relay tower. Construction of four microwave towers (Barrio Brasil, West Bay, Juticalpa, Diamond Rock) will help in providing service to more remote customers and three relay towers connecting the grid with La Ceiba are almost completed.
Overall, Hondutel invested $8 million in upgrading the Bay Islands telephone system. "Hondutel has had a bad image and they asked us to try to improve that image," said Ing. Aristizabal.

Read past issues of
Bay Islands VOICE

No. 4
May 8
2003

Vol2 No. 2
Jan.29
2004

Vol2 No. 3
Feb.12
2004

 

Vol2 No. 11
September
2004

Vol2 No. 12
October
2004