photo of rock islands (VOA Learning English)

A proposal to develop a high-end hotel project at Ngerchelngael island, a privately-owned rock island within Rock Island Southern Lagoon, a UNESCO World Heritage registered site in Koror State, received opposition from many of the attendees at the Koror State Zoning Commission’s public hearing for rezoning of the site from Conservation Zone to Resort Center Zone.

The hotel project, which proposed to build 50 bungalows on a 14-acre area including over the water, faced opposition from community members of the adjacent hamlet of Ngerbeched who claimed that the area has provided them seafood source and freshwater over generations and felt that the development will infringe on their abilities to access these resources.

The project proposed by an ultra-high-end brand, the Four Seasons, seeks to develop a low impact, self-sustaining facility on the island.  The presentation stated that the project seeks as much as possible to minimize impact to the environment and the cultural landscape while delivering an authentic experience for its visitors. It also revealed its environmental track record in its various properties in other environmentally sensitive sites around the world.  It stated that it will become a corporate citizen contributing to the environment, research, education and economic opportunities among others in this community.  The project meets Palau’s national policy definition of high-end hotel development.

Concern was raised about whether there will be an impact of such a project on the UNESCO World Heritage site designation of the RISL if this project is implemented and whether are there processes that allow it.

King Sam, representing Palau’s UNESCO Commission expressed that the Commission believed that the project will not affect the site as long as we can demonstrate that there are existing safeguards and measures in place that can demonstrate that we can effectively manage the whole site.  He said Koror State laws and EQPB regulations are in place to provide those safeguards.

Ron Leidich of Planet Blue tour company cited a report from the archeological arm of UNESCO that says that such development would irreparably harm the UNESCO designation of the RISL.  This position was also reiterated by Dr. Jolie Liston, an archeologist who presented that the opinion issued by ICOMOS is serious enough to jeopardize the UNESCO designation of RISL.

One of the Ngerbeched chiefs questioned Koror State’s prohibition of a landowner from developing his property and questioned how the rock islands belonging to Ngerbeched became part of the UNESCO without their knowledge.

King Sam explained that the process of designation began when these rocks islands were under the ownership of Koror State and the Ngerchelngael was deeded to Espangel George Kebekol after the site has been designated.

It was also learned during this public hearing for rezoning of the rock island that the company had the water rights as well over the area they want to build over the water bungalows.  The water though has not been reclassified by EQPB and that application for reclassification has already been submitted.

It was also revealed that an Environmental Impact Study was made and that over 200 community members from the Ngerbeched responded in support of the project.  The report was said to be available for any interested persons but the names of respondents are withheld based on their requests.

The proposal for rezoning and the comments are collected for the Koror State Zoning Commission to deliberate and make a decision whether to change the classification of the land from Conservation to Resort Zone. (L.N. Reklai)