Vulcan Materials Co. creeping into Belize?

The content originally appeared on: Amandala Newspaper

by Marco Lopez

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 8, 2022 Aquatic ecologist, Dr. Ed Boles has drafted a 31-page document sounding the alarm on a potential threat to the environment that could affect the Jewel for generations to come – the proposal of Vulcan Materials Company, the largest construction aggregate firm in the US, to set up shop in Belize and mine limestone from a mineral formation located at the White Ridge Farm, a private property near Gales Point, Manatee in the Stann Creek District.

The company has expressed an interest in purchasing the property but has not finalized the acquisition, according to recent reports. They are, however, now seeking an audience with government officials and the people of Gales Point, a large number of whom have passionately opposed the project, which they believe could disrupt their way of life.

In a recent interview, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources, Petroleum and Mining, Hon. Cordel Hyde, told local media that the company’s proposal is a “no- go”.

“The residents from Gales Point Manatee have made it absolutely clear to the government, that they don’t want that kind of activity in their neck of the woods, absolutely clear for the longest time—at least I can remember since we’ve been in government, and I can imagine it even from before, they’ve been clamoring and making that statement, and if we’re a government of the people, by the people, for the people, then we have to listen to our people, so that’s a no-go for us really,” Hon. Hyde told local media.

We’ve been informed that the company is seeking environmental clearance for mining operations that, according to Boles, could potentially disrupt local hydrological systems in the Southern Lagoon and threaten flora and fauna in the area. This Alabama-based company has been in a long-standing dispute with the Mexican government over its method of extracting limestone—methods that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says amount to “ecological catastrophe.”

They have since been ordered to stop their mining operation in two locations in Quintana Roo, Mexico, and have subsequently brought a lawsuit against the Mexican government for $1.5 billion. (We understand that this is just one of a number of lawsuits the company has brought against the Mexican government.)

The company, which is operating in Belize under the name, “The White Ridge Project”, has said that they are in the process of exploring the geologic and economic feasibility of embarking on a mining operation in Belize. But by all indications, it seems that they already have their sights set on the Sugar Hill limestone formation located at the White Ridge Farm. Reports are that the company has been operating in Belize under the name Caracol Holdings Limited and received an exploration license as far back as 2019 to search for limestone in the country. They are now planning a trip to Belize, during which they plan to conduct information sessions seemingly geared at securing the buy- in of the residents of Gales Point, a community already affected by and battling the effects of erosion.

Despite DPM Hyde’s apparent stance in support of the community’s opposition to the proposed mining operation, the company’s VP of External Affairs and Corporate Communication, Janet Kavinoky, says the company wants to start a dialogue. They are looking for an opportunity to convince the government and the community that their project is environmentally and socially feasible.

“There is a process by which Belize and the government offer companies to go through where we say we want to go through that process. We want to ask and answer any question. We want people in the community, people with interest to ask and answer questions.” Kavinoky told 7News’ Jules Vasquez in a recent interview.

The company has a long history of contentious litigation over its operation within areas of the United States and now in Mexico. Boles fears that Belize could fall into its corporate web and be subject to destructive practices and lawsuits of crippling proportions if the company is allowed to operate within the country.

Among some of the glaring environmental concerns listed in the study, is the fact that the company intends to blast and pulverize the limestone material and use a conveyer bridge to carry the material to waiting cargo ships in a dredged-out center on the inner channel behind the Barrier Reef. This would involve transporting such material over both land and sea. His study says that the government has banned strip mining in the area, but the company wants to push forward and get environmental clearance to start work in Belize.

“Belize has increased in importance to Vulcan because the Mexican Government shut down the Calica

Mine on May 5, 2022, due to the extensive amount of environmental damage the mining operation was causing. In response, Vulcan has a lawsuit against the Mexican Government for $1.5 billion USD, and the International Center for Investment Disputes shall be issuing a decision,” Dr. Boles stated.

As mentioned, the Mexican government cited concerns over the impact of limestone extraction on the local environment and water table and called Vulcan’s method “destructive”. “What is very clear is that we’re not permitting any more extraction of the material,” President Obrador Lopez said in a press conference in late May, and he added that the operations will remain suspended until the parties agree on what to do with the site.

The US-based company has operated through the Calica unit in Mexico and has several concessions in Quintana Roo that have enabled it to crush limestone in mines in that area and ship it to the United States. The area, which occupies around 10,400 acres, resembles a wasteland, and the Mexican president has threatened to submit a complaint to the United Nations about the destruction of the area, but later toned down his remarks.

The company’s website for the White Ridge Project says that they are looking into creating an “environmentally and socially sustainable limestone quarry,” but Boles’s report highlights, for example, that methods such as strip mining— which involves removing the top foliage and soil of an area to expose the limestone deposit–are the most commonly used and oftentimes cause permanent destruction. This method renders the area a wasteland before making pockets of sinkholes, from which the limestone is extracted. Kavinoky has since said that the company does not intend to carry out a strip mining operation but will instead do aggregate quarrying.

In terms of how limestone mining can affect ground water, the report states, “Limestone mining has significant effects on groundwater resources, through the removal of the aquifer deposit or a large part of that deposit. As limestone mining progresses, there is less water storage space available, the intricate structure of the aquifer is destroyed, and eventually, the water table is left exposed, becoming a surface water body.”

Boles is calling on Belizeans to urge the government to not sign any agreement with the company, known for its strong-arm legal approach and destructive practices.

“I think that this would probably hurt our reputation in the world as a country that is putting our natural resources on high priority. Allowing these kinds of development to come into the country is really counter to many of the projects that have been done so far to conserve those resources,” he said.

Dr. Boles added, “We can’t replace the ecological services that ecosystems provide us and that includes all of the organisms living in the ecosystem that are providing the nurturant and other resources that keep life viable on earth, and a healthy civilization requires a healthy ecosystem. I think that there is growing support amount Belizeans to not accept these kinds of development schemes…I think we are beginning to understand that we need to be very careful of the kinds of development that we engage with and select those development strategies that best fit our small country that focus on conserving the incredibly rich natural resources that we have, those resources that really define us. “

Vulcan Materials Company is located at 1200 Urban Center Dr., Birmingham, Alabama, and is currently headed by J. Thomas Hill, Chairman of the Board. As mentioned, the company is the largest supplier of construction aggregates across the United States.