Sunday, Dec 9, 2018
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BNT questions fairness of Disney project survey

Eric Carey.

Bahamas National Trust (BNT) Executive Director Eric Carey, who has been at the forefront of the resistance to the proposed Disney development at Lighthouse Point in South Eleuthera, said yesterday the Public Domain poll that showed majority support for the project nationwide does not appear to have been a fair survey.

The Bahamian market and opinion research firm released two separate polls this week on the issue.

The first poll surveyed 994 respondents throughout the country and revealed that 66 percent of respondents, who indicated they heard about the project, said they support it.

The second poll, which surveyed 217 Eleuthera residents, revealed that 72 percent of respondents, who said they heard about the project, said they support it.

The telephone survey, which was commissioned and paid for by Disney, was conducted between September 27 and October 7, 2018.

“From the questions that I saw, there was a lot of leading information, which provided information that we don’t necessarily think is objective, i.e Disney providing a cruise shop, Disney providing jobs; therefore, do you support the project,” Carey said.

“I have issues with the survey itself, in that I think the questions were not completely objective and that they actually led people to a particular response in favor of Disney.

“I also have a problem with the fact that the survey was commissioned by Disney. They paid for the survey. I’m sure they approved the questions and I think sure enough got the answer that they were probably paying for.”

However, Public Domain President M’wale Rahming assured the survey was conducted professionally and scientifically.

“What we do is we tell you, this is how Bahamians feel about particular matters. We’re not in the business of convincing people; we’re not in the business of telling people what they should do or what position they should have. We are saying [during] a snapshot of time, between September 27 and October 7, this is how the Bahamian people felt, and this is how the people of Eleuthera felt,” Rahming said.

“We could do this again in a month and this could change, and it could be more support or less support, we don’t know; but we are not in the business of convincing people or trying to get something done or trying to not get anything done.”

 Disney is seeking approval from the government to develop the property into an almost half-a-billion-dollar cruise port, as it looks to double the number of ships calling on ports in The Bahamas by adding three new ships by 2023.

The respondents were informed about some of the concerns groups opposing the development have touted, such as the project destroying the ecological and cultural assets of local environments, the project stripping locals of access to beaches and public spaces and not stimulating the local economy, and asked whether they had heard the claims.

They were then asked, after hearing the claims by the development’s critics, how likely they were to support the development.

Similarly, respondents were provided with information about the development, including its sustainable design, the number of jobs it would provide, and its promise to give the government more than 170 acres of the land and preserve more than 100 acres of salt ponds on the property.

They were once again asked how likely they were to support the development.

Carey said because of this method, the results were seemingly skewed.

“Questions were asked about an unsustainable operation purporting to be sustainable. There is no cruise ship operation anywhere in the world that is sustainable but when you put in questions about sustainability, maybe people think ‘okay, it’s going to be sustainable I’ll say yes’,” he said.

“So that was a false premise I think people were presented with and so any answer that was given in favor of it was not based on pure objective review of what Disney is proposing versus what we are proposing.”

BNT, environmentalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have continued to speak out against the proposed development.

With their “Save Lighthouse Point” petition, BNT and the One Eleuthera Foundation have been lobbying the government for approval to turn the 700-acre property into a national park.

“Of those 30,000 people who signed [the Save Lighthouse Point petition], 12,000 Bahamians have said no…That is a significant percentage of our people who have said no to Disney,” Carey noted.

“So out of that 30,000, of which a lot of them are visitors and second homeowners and still important stakeholders, 12,000 Bahamians have said to Disney ‘go away from Lighthouse Point’. That is more significant than any survey that anybody would have paid for, any results one would try to engineer. That cannot be excluded. My prime minister and my minister of tourism cannot exclude that.”

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar has said that the poll does not sway the position of the government to approve any proposals and it will wait to hear all sides before making a decision on the matter.

In response, Carey said, “We appreciate the fact that the government is allowing us to make our case as well before they make their decision and that they have agreed to meet with us.”

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