After much debate, town meetings and heated arguments for and against that reached a public crescendo this week, the government yesterday approved Disney Cruise Line’s nearly half-billion dollar proposal to develop the Lighthouse Point property in South Eleuthera into a cruise port.
“The government of The Bahamas having taken into consideration the views of the majority of the people of Central and South Eleuthera is satisfied that it has made the best decision in the interest of the Bahamian people, a sustainable future for the people of Central and South Eleuthera and the economic development of the country,” said the Cabinet Office in a statement issued around 3 p.m. following a National Economic Council meeting on the matter.
The Cabinet Office said negotiations will now begin on a heads of agreement, which will detail the scope of the project, and the obligations of both Disney and the government.
The government said when concluded, the agreement will be tabled in Parliament in “keeping with the government’s commitment to transparency and accountability”.
The Cabinet Office acknowledged the Lighthouse Point development has been the subject of considerable public discourse.
But it pointed out that the land in question for the proposed development is privately owned and not Crown Land.
The Cabinet Office also noted that Disney has a sales agreement with the land owner to purchase the land.
Opponents to Disney’s development have expressed concern about the project potentially 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.
But the Cabinet Office said that Disney is committed to low density development and sustainable design, public access and the restoration of various historical and cultural sites.
It said the development will create approximately 150 new jobs and an “array of entrepreneurial opportunities for residents of Eleuthera and Bahamians in general”.
As part of its development, Disney will also convey approximately 190 acres of the land purchased to the government for conservation and a national park, according to the statement.
“Other elements of the project include, the integration of Bahamian cultural and artistic expression into the design of the site and experiences offered, and partnership with the community to develop training and professional development programs,” read the statement.
Noting Disney’s record of “environmental stewardship”, the Cabinet Office also said it will ensure that the project is implemented in a way that safeguards the environment and the interests of the Bahamian people.
In a separate statement after the approval was announced, Disney said it looks forward to working with the government and the Bahamian people to create new economic opportunities while preserving the natural beauty of Lighthouse Point.
“We are grateful for the warm welcome and support we have received from so many in Eleuthera and look forward to further developing relationships that will endure for many years to come,” said Disney Cruise Line President Jeff Vahle.
“In the short term, we are focused on reaching an agreement that is mutually beneficial for The Bahamas and our company, as well as moving forward with an environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan.
“Our team also looks forward to working with local artists, historians and others as we ensure that the stories and culture of The Bahamas shine through when Disney guests and Bahamians alike visit this special place.”
The Bahamas National Trust (BNT), environmentalists and non-governmental organizations have spoken out strongly against the proposed development.
With their “Save Lighthouse Point” petition, BNT and One Eleuthera Foundation have been lobbying the government for approval of an alternative proposal to turn the 700-acre property into a national park.
Ahead of the yesterday’s announcement, BNT Executive Director Eric Carey made a final bid for the government to deny the proposed development and accused Disney of leaning on the government to make a favorable decision.
When contacted following the decision, Carey said the BNT was disappointed, but would regroup and assess the way forward.
“We are disappointed with the decision,” he said.
“It is obviously not what we wanted to hear. And now, we will have to regroup with the Lighthouse Point partners and see what are our next steps, what the options are for the next steps.”
While the Cabinet Office acknowledged the proposed development of the One Eleuthera Foundation and its partners, it referenced recent polling on the issue which indicated there is wide support of Disney’s proposed development.
Bahamian market and opinion research firm Public Domain released two separate polls earlier this month on the issue.
The first poll surveyed 994 respondents nationwide.
It 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 was commissioned and paid for by Disney.
It was conducted between September 27 and October 7, 2018.
However, those at the forefront of the resistance to Disney’s development, questioned the objectivity of the survey.
The Cabinet Office said it is aware of meetings held in the communities of Central and South Eleuthera by respective groups and live radio broadcasts, which have allowed the public to express their views.
But it again suggested that there is more support for the project than opposition.
“The Disney Cruise Lines began its cruises to The Bahamas in 1998.
“Since that time, the economic impact on the Bahamian economy has been significant.
“With the development of the Eleuthera project an increase in port calls to Nassau is also projected.”