After 10 months of negotiations, the Honduran Government stands its grounds: The fines must be paid and environmental studies must be filed. It took five meetings in Tegucigalpa and a final meeting on Roatan on January 17 to make it official.
“Carnival is extremely important to our economy, but the government stood its ground. I am very impressed with the [environment] minister,” said Roatan’s Mayor Julio Galindo. “The minister said, ‘I can’t give you a permit to dredge, if you [Carnival] haven’t followed procedures or paid fines on your first dredging permit.'”
Roatan Cruise Terminal (RCT), a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, decided to accept the penalty to move the permitting process along. “Carnival is being very forthcoming. They acknowledged their fault in this,” said Governor Shawn Hyde. However, according to Mike Riemers, General Manager of RCT, the Honduran government knew about the dredging at the entrance to the channel.
A Lps 1 million ($52,000) fine was given to RCT for dredging coral beyond the given permit. “Dredging was larger than permit was given,” said Jose Luis Segovia, the owner of the company that performed the original impact study for Carnival’s Mahogany Bay. This is the maximum fine that the Honduran government can impose for an environmental violation.
Even with all the dredging, cruise ships entering Mahogany Bay Cruise Ship Terminal were still left with too narrow an entrance to the cove. While the pace of construction at Mahogany Bay was fast, sometimes frantic, a basic mistake was made in the planning stages of the cruise ship terminal. Halcrow, an engineering company, is blamed for this. Halcrow did not respond to Bay Islands Voice requests for comment on the matter.
The cove entrance continues to be difficult depending on the wind, current, swell and type of vessel propulsion. According to Riemers when the eastern wind is blowing at 20 knots, many cruise ships struggle to enter the channel. At 25 knots, conditions become unsafe for just about any cruise ship. When entering Dixon Cove the cruise ship is perpendicular to the reef, and wind and waves make especially it vulnerable as it backs into the narrow shelter.
This engineering mistake has proven costly for Carnival as well as for Roatan. Since November 2009, 24 ships with 73,000 passengers intended to dock at MBCC ended up at Port of Roatan due to weather. Twelve Carnival vessels with 29,000 passengers were unable to call on Roatan at all because of weather that made the entrance to Dixon Cove too risky. Around $2 million was not spent by these passenger on local tours and goods. “We really need both [Roatan cruise ship] docks running at full capacity. If a ship doesn’t come in to Roatan, it won’t come here again,” said Governor Hyde.
To widen the entrance to Dixon Cove, Mahogany Bay has filed a petition to transplant 12,000 square meters of coral to create a wider entrance to Dixon Cove. The existing width of the channel varies along its length, but the channel’s width is expected to widen by “approximately the width of 2.5 cruise ships” at the narrowest point.
According to Governor Hyde an environmental impact study is expected to be submitted in February and, if all goes well, SERNA should give its approval in March. The RCT is a beneficiary of being designated as a “national priority” project, a Honduran Congress decree from 2007. Still the project now has seen three Honduran presidents –Zelaya, Michelleti and now Lobo–and has had to deal with three governments as far as permits and discussions.
According to Riemers, RCT will file for a permit to dredge a 50,000 square meter triangular area of coral at the south-eastern portion of the channel. The “cannon” paid yearly to SERNA and currently at $78,000 and is expected to increase as impacted area increases. “Cannon is a payment for destroying or weakening a natural resource… and should be utilized in local communities. From 2008 it [Carnival] should be paying, but they haven’t paid yet,” said Torrez. Part of the confusion is where and to whom that cannon should have been paid. “We are fighting so that cannon money would be paid to Municipality, not to anyone else,” said Mayor Galindo, whose municipality will receive a sewage system for the Dixon Cove’s Colonia Santa Maria, worth around $150,000, as part of the agreed compensation that Carnival will pay.
Carnival is proposing to move some of the coral from the site to a site directly west of the channel. “There is going to be damage to the reef, but we will get to feed our people,” admits Governor Hyde. Roatan’s environmental watchdog, Roatan Marine Park, agrees: “From an economic point of view this [the dredging] is good. From an environmental point of view has a huge, negative impact,” Grazzia Matamoros, of the Roatan Marine Park. [/private]