If its proposed development for a cruise port at Lighthouse Point in South Eleuthera is approved, Disney Cruise Line would preserve the salt ponds on the property and give the government 170 acres of the land for conservation, according to the company’s president, Jeff Vahle.
In recent weeks, environmentalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have spoken out against the proposed development.
The One Eleuthera Foundation and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) have been at the forefront of the resistance with their “Save Lighthouse Point” petition and have been lobbying the government for approval to turn the 700-acre property into a national park.
In an op-ed in The Nassau Guardian today, Vahle outlines the company’s plan for the property.
“While the previously approved development for this property included plans for hundreds of homes, condominiums, villas, a hotel and a 140-slip marina constructed in the salt ponds, what Disney wants to do is different, very different,” Vahle said.
“In fact, our development is designed to have as little impact as possible on the natural environment.
“Simply put, we want to work with The Bahamas to create an international destination that protects and sustains the natural beauty of this historic location; that creates quality jobs and opportunity for Bahamians; that celebrates the culture, and that strengthens the community in Eleuthera.
“From an environmental perspective, we are absolutely committed to doing the right thing and would never risk the natural beauty of Eleuthera or our long-standing commitment in this space by doing otherwise.
“What has often been forgotten in discussions about our plans is that the property is privately owned and has been on the market for quite some time.
“We are committed to giving more than 170 acres of what is currently privately owned land to the government for conservation.
“We also plan to preserve the more-than-100 acres of salt ponds on the property.
“This focus on conservation means that only approximately 20 percent of the property will be developed, much of it for low-density use like the placement of beach chairs and umbrellas and the creation of small support structures for things like restrooms, shops and dining.”
Vahle said Disney has no plans to develop the southern-most point of the property or allow its guests to visit it.
He added that the project will also use sustainable design and building practices for the areas Disney intends to develop, and use solar power for much of its operation.
However, BNT Executive Director Eric Carey said that the BNT’s sustainable plan for Lighthouse Point is a better economic model than Disney’s.
“We are not saying, ‘Go away, Disney, and leave this space to be wild space, wilderness space, that people don’t benefit from’,” Carey said.
“We’re saying that we can create just as many jobs, in fact, many more jobs, long term, sustainable jobs, full-time jobs, seven days a week, not the two or three-day a week jobs that the cruise ship brings. And we’re going to be there every day of the year.
“We’re not going to have to disappear because it’s rough a third of the year.”
That project, which proposes the creation of some 400 jobs, would see a national park component, a sustainable development zone with ecolodges, a scientific research facility, a marine park offshore and more.
Carey said if the area is turned into a national park it could almost immediately create 25 permanent jobs.
As for the Disney Cruise Line project, Vahle said in addition to providing full access to the property for Bahamians, the development would create 120 to 150 permanent jobs, inclusive of management positions and opportunities for career advancement.
“At our other Disney destination, Castaway Cay, the current average wage is more than 50 percent higher than the Bahamian minimum wage and employees receive health benefits and work full-time schedules with the opportunity for overtime,” Vahle continued.
“With guests expected to be in port three to five days per week year-round and the need to complete a variety of projects on non-port days, these roles will provide much needed employment stability.
“Beyond these employment opportunities, hundreds of indirect jobs will be created, along with positive economic impact through construction, port adventures hosted by Bahamians showcasing Eleuthera’s unique sites, opportunities for the sale of Bahamian goods and relationships with Bahamian vendors and other partners.
“Finally, I want to stress that our commitment goes beyond our plans for this property.
“As in all the communities in which we do business, we will work to strengthen the settlements in Eleuthera, with a special focus on children and families.
“We also will work with government and community partners to maintain and restore significant historical and cultural sites and integrate Bahamian voices and artistic expression into the design.
“Together, we will make sure it is rooted in the same kind of Bahamian stories and traditions I learned about during my recent visit.
“It is because of this broader commitment to Eleuthera and to The Bahamas that I believe we will find common ground with those who question our plans. But, we can only find that common ground when we use facts as the basis for dialogue.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications