Monday, April 5, 2010

WATER SIDE LAWS OF BELIZE

66 feet back from the high tide mark, is public reserve and can be used by anyone in Belize.
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Following is my understanding of the erosion, accretion and the 66 foot reserve based on reading the law, and many discussions with people in the Lands Department and private attorneys.

Erosion is irrelevant, it’s the high tide line that starts the measurement of land, wherever that might be, and whether or not land is encumbered by a 66 foot reserve. As in many States in the US, if you accrete you win, if you erode, you lose. Unfortunately, that has created a permissive attitude toward the seabed because who in government wants to seem heartless and deny a permit to fill to someone who has lost most of his or her property through erosion?

The 66’ reserve is an easement over property owned by someone – it doesn’t define where property starts or ends unless the reserve is specifically excluded from property ownership by a survey. Also, some property is subjected to a 66’ reserve by law – the National Lands Act and its predecessors. According to the National Lands Act, only specific lands are legislatively subject to the reserve, including rural lands and those outside towns and cities. If you’re in one of the areas made subject to the reserve by legislation, I’m told that what your survey says is irrelevant, you property is still encumbered by the reserve. If you live elsewhere, then your survey rules. However, most land will be subject to the reserve by survey since that was the law of the land under British rule, when most original surveys of water frontage property were done in this country. And, the British take the reserve seriously – Australia tried to do away with it in the 1800s and Queen Victoria promptly slapped their hands and sent British civil servants to make sure it was enforced.

If property is encumbered by the 66’ reserve, the area of the reserve moves with the erosion or accretion. But, as with losing land through erosion, the movement of water creates problems – a land owner’s house might end up being in the middle or at the high tide line edge of the 66 foot reserve. In these cases, owners have frequently applied for government permission to fill in their eroded land so that the improvements on the land are not within the reserve. Again, who in government wants to seem heartless and deny a permit to fill under these circumstances. (Or, in the case where the 66’ reserve essentially takes up an entire caye.) So, as permits to dredge and fill for erosion continued to be given and the reserve on small cayes essentially ignored, the doctrine of the 66’ reserve became eroded in the public mind, but it’s still the law of almost all of the land in Belize.

The above applies to rivers, streams, lagoons and the cayes as well as the Sea. However, what is usually not discussed is what can be done on the 66 foot reserve. The 66’ reserve is derived from British law, and there, the 66’ foot reserve can be used for passage, but not necessarily beach barbecues, parties, etc. You can walk on it to get from one place to another, but that’s pretty much it. However, some countries have greatly expanded the use of the 66’ reserve in connection with the public purpose doctrine – India, Australia and many States in the US, so much so that the 66’ foot reserve is almost sacred ground. This issue apparently has never been litigated in Belize, so we have no definition of what the reserve may be used for here. So, if Belize follows the strict British interpretation, even if an entire caye is encumbered by the 66’ foot reserve, and owner could keep you off the land because you would have no reason to need to use the reserve for passage from one place to another.

But, even if your property isn’t subject to the 66’ reserve, you still can’t own the seabed (and seabed means any land underwater, whether it be in the Caribbean, a lagoon, river or stream). This is a completely separate issue from the 66’ foot reserve, although it often runs up against when survey lines are drawn. The property owners with stakes out in the water have surveyors with questionable ethics. In Belize, no one owns the seabed – it belongs to the government who must hold it in trust for the interests of the public. The government may allow its use, but only for a public purpose –or that’s what the law says, anyway. But, who cares about the law in Belize? The government certainly doesn’t, it seems.

The cayes and the coastline (of the sea, rivers, streams, lagoons) are subject to the doctrine of shelter in an emergency (literally, any port in a storm), but I can’t remember the legal name of the doctrine right now – maybe Wendy can. Basically, if you get stuck at sea (or in the water anywhere), caught in a storm, or have boat problems – you’re allowed to land on anyone’s property, regardless of whether it’s public or private, above or below the high tide line, encumbered or not encumbered by a reserve, whatever.

On 4/5/2010 5:32:55 AM, Kobuh (bzekobuh-list@yahoo.com) wrote:
> So far no one has mentioned Erosion, in many cases that 66 feet has gone.
> It is probably also a factor where those in the know have been able to get
> survey stakes placed out in the water basically resulting in the public
> access piece being underwater .Bze Kobuh,
> The monkeys are running the zoo
>

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