Fort Liberté was chosen during the previous administration for a port over two other northern locations. The area received the highest scores in a 2010 International Finance Corporation study because of its proximity to the sea, a new highway and industrial parks in the area, said Ary Naim, IFC country representative for Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The north needs a port to sustain the huge investment opportunities that comes with the new park, Lamothe said.
Envisioned before the January 2010 earthquake, the 600-acre industrial park is a $300 million job creation package financed by the U.S. government and Inter-American Development Bank. Supporters have championed it as a model for rebuilding post-quake Haiti while environmentalists have criticized the current and previous Haitian governments for locating it on prime agriculture land at the mouth of the nearby Bay of Caracol, an endangered marine and mangrove-forest ecosystem.
As with the industrial park, there must be some place better for its location, Haiti environmentalist Jean Wiener said about Fort Liberté bay.
Wiener heads one of Haitis oldest and only environmental groups that focuses on coastal and marine resources management and protection. He has been pushing for the entire area that includes Fort Liberté and the Bay of Caracol to be turned into a protected marine area. He isnt surprised, he said, by the bays rich biodiversity of turtle grass, corals, mangroves and marine species.
Agreeing with Hodgson that the area with its old colonial French and Spanish forts is a unique environmental and cultural habitat, Wiener said Fort Liberté bay would be better served as a tourism attraction and managed costal and marine reserve.
The environmental issues confronting leaders are not unique to Haiti. In Florida, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are currently relocating small endangered corals as part of a settlement with the state Department of Environmental Protection, Miami-Dade County and the Corps. The efforts are part of a settlement agreement with environmental groups, which contend that blasting and silt from the dredging in the Port of Miami will harm corals, sea grass beds and other marine life.
Experts say the parks success doesnt hinge on the construction of a new port. But with the current underutilized, underfunded Cap-Haitien port barely capable of handling more than a few hundred containers a month, Haiti would benefit greatly from a modern port capable of receiving tankers for a much-needed fuel depot in the region, and larger vessels with the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal.
Haiti also stands to benefit economically by a new ports multiplier effect. Currently, the country is losing desperately needed revenue as the industrial parks main tenant, Korean manufacturing firm Sae-A, ships out of the neighboring Dominican Republic, whose nearby Port of Manzanillo is being pushed as an option if plans for the northern Haiti port falls through.
Fort Liberté was once the site of a thriving sisal plantation. But as demand for the fiber declined, the industry died. To survive, unemployed residents turned to the land, fishing barely matured fish out of the bays narrow channel and cutting the mangroves for charcoal and construction material.
If you dont build a port, you will come next year and there still will not be any lizards or coral reefs, said Gregory Brandt, a Port-au-Prince businessman who has been advocating since 1995 for the area to be transformed into a special economic zone with a modern port built on the bays western bank. Putting Haitians to work is the first thing to do to protect the environment.
Economist and Oxford University professor Paul Collier, who made headlines arguing that rebuilding Haitis garment assembly industry was a key to rebuilding the country, said: Youve got to see the environmental gains as well as environmental losses.
We know who is endangered in Haiti without looking under the stones to find the shy lizards. Its the people, said Collier. Its imperative to relocate as many Haitians by developing new centers of economic activities.
Collier said its hypocritical of people living in cities in the United States and elsewhere to expect Haiti to not build cities where people are productive.
There is massive environmental degradation across Haiti because too many people are desperately trying to get a living out of the country, he said.