Fitzgerald blasts BNT on Bell Island dredging
Progressive Liberal Party Senator Jerome Fitzgerald yesterday slammed the Bahamas National Trust(BNT)for its backing of the controversial dredging project at Bell Island in the protected Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. According to him it appears as if the organization supports the government on certain developments when millions of dollars are involved.
Fitzgerald, who was contributing to the debate on the amendments to the BNT Act and the Forestry Bill, claimed that type of action goes against the organization’s mandate.
Several weeks ago the government approved the request of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV to dredge a yacht basin to accommodate 150-foot vessels at Bell Island.
The Bahamas National Trust (BNT), which has stewardship over the park, supported the dredging plan.
It claimed it did so because it believes the project’s environmental impact will be minimal if it is done in the correct way. BNT further claimed it cannot deny a private landowner the right to develop his or her property.
Government’s approval allows the developer to excavate 4.32 acres of upland area for a yacht basin; 2.56 acres of marine area for an outer channel; 4.28 acres of marine area for a barge landing and 1.9 acres of marine area for the outer area of the barge landing.
But yesterday, Fitzgerald claimed he was unsure whether he would support the changes to the BNT Act, because the BNT would be given more autonomy with more far reaching powers.
“While the trust has done great work throughout the country on serious issues of national importance with regard to the environment, where there are big developments, where there are millions of dollars involved, the trust appears to put its interests, or the interests of its members ahead of the national good,”Fitzgerald said.
He pointed to the Clifton Cay issue and the development at Arawak Cay.
The senator said at a time when some local groups are questioning the BNT’s integrity it may not be such a good idea to give its board even more autonomy.
“The issue is very serious,”Senator Fitzgerald said.”This bill is essentially creating almost a state within a state for the National Trust, and they will have autonomy to do as they want. They already have control over 700,000 acres of our land and sea and this gives them further authority, and to my sense in many instances they have betrayed the Bahamian people’s trust on many issues that are serious to us.”
Amendments to the act would also allow the BNT to give general advice to the government and other private sector organizations on development issues, policies and conservation and biodiversity issues. Additionally, the amendments would also empower the BNT’s council to create by-laws, which will take voting from the present requirement of a BNT member having to physically appear at its annual general meeting to vote, to a new and modern level of postal and electronic balloting, and proxies.