Members of the prominent environmental organization Save The Bays (STB) have thrown their support behind Carnival Cruise Line’s planned port development for Freeport in a move that seems an unusual position for a group that has traditionally sounded the alarm against wide-scale development.
Fred Smith, QC, an STB director and the organization’s legal counsel, is the attorney for Carnival, but he assures his support of the recently announced Freeport project has nothing to do with that fact.
Smith said he was already Carnival’s attorney when he opposed the project Carnival had planned under the Christie administration for East Grand Bahama.
He said he thought his client’s original plan would have been an “environmental abomination and economic perversion”.
“It was just perverse not to plug this scale of development directly into Freeport,” he told National Review.
In March 2017, a release from Diane Philips & Associates noted, “The chairman and legal counsel for a powerful environmental advocacy group have charged the Christie administration with sealing a deal to create a private cruise port at East End, Grand Bahama, that could kill the already struggling Freeport economy and endanger five fragile eco-systems that they say are among the most magnificent in the world.”
Joe Darville, the STB chairman, said at the time, “That’s five eco-systems they would have to dredge through in order to be able to get through. They are going to rape the reefs, destroy the mangroves, dredge out the wetlands and they will say it is for the benefit of Bahamians. Baloney. It’s for the benefit of the cruise line.”
His comment was made on the program “Voice of the Bays” on Love 97 FM.
Darville told The Nassau Guardian last week the new version of the project will be a regulated development.
He is no longer concerned, as he was in 2017 when the project was proposed for East Grand Bahama, that Carnival would “rape the reefs”.
He said, “We know that Carnival has a tradition of preserving any corals that they have to interact with.
“They have it moved on a timely basis and we were led through the whole program on how they would do this. This has not been the case with Disney at all. Now, maybe they will do that if they get the final permission from government to go ahead, but at the present time there is a mystery.”
Save The Bays was among the groups strongly opposed to the controversial project Disney Cruise Line has planned for Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera.
While STB joined the coalition that was vehemently against the Disney project, its legal counsel, Smith, was quiet during the public debates.
Smith’s firm also represents Disney.
Asked why he was silent during the debate on that project, he said, “I was not concerned to express any view on the Disney development. My partners in Nassau were representing Disney and I chose not to say anything; whereas in Freeport, I have a vested interest as a [resident] of Grand Bahama and a licensee in Freeport to see that there’s development here in a regulated, transparent and accountable way.”
We also asked him to respond to the view some might have that he’s only supporting the Freeport project because he represents Carnival.
“Look at the previous two years in which I was a vocal and regular critic and opponent of my clients doing this project out east,” Smith said.
“If you were to do a study, I dare say, of all of the radio, in the print, I was a regular critic of that.”
Smith said he will oppose the Oban project for an oil refinery and storage facility “to my death bed”.
“If the government wants to have a proposal for an oil refinery in Freeport and if they do it transparently and accountably and if they follow the law and don’t come up with a secret agreement and ram it down our throats…I’d consider it. Freeport is designed for huge growth,” he said.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, in announcing the newly structured Carnival project, said the model is impressive and the project will provide over 1,000 direct and indirect permanent jobs.
“What is being proposed will prove to be a significant catalyst for economic growth in Grand Bahama,” he said.
The port will be developed in Sharp Rock, just four miles east of Lucaya in Freeport.
Minnis insisted the project will adhere to strict environmental guidelines.
When asked why the environmental group decided to support this project while opposing Disney’s project, Darville said, “The concern is that Carnival came with everything transparent, telling us everything about how it’s going to be done, what the impact that would take place [is], how it’s going to be mitigated.
“We haven’t heard this at all from Disney. We just know that they had a meeting in Eleuthera and as far as we know environmental organizations were not invited to ask the relevant questions with respect to what is going to happen to a massive amount of the environment.”
On the “Voice of the Bays” program last week, a caller expressed “shock” that Save The Bays supports the Carnival project.
While the show’s topic was “Why Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas are supporting the Carnival grand port development on Grand Bahama”, and while Darville, the STB chairman, previous stated publicly that STB supports the project, Smith said the organization itself does not and its members were expressing their individual views.
“Save The Bays and the Waterkeepers have not resolved and do not support the Carnival cruise port project,” Smith said. “There has been no decision by any of those organizations to do so…”
In an article dated February 18, he said, the Carnival project is shaping up as an ideal model for how development should occur in The Bahamas.
“It is being pursued transparently and in accordance with the law, through a commitment to environmental preservation, with an approach that will empower Bahamians and importantly at a site ideally placed to spark an unprecedented explosion of economic opportunity for Freeport, where, post St. George, I have persistently been the most vocal proponent for development.”
Smith told National Review Freeport is ready-made for huge growth and development.
“When Carnival decided to change its location and to negotiate for it to be in Freeport, I [decided to] support it, firstly as a Freeporter and secondly, I think it’s simply very good for the economy,” he said.
“It doesn’t have that much of an environmental negative impact that it would have if it were being developed in pristine locations that are not already designated for development purposes. Under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, the entire area of Freeport has been designated for big development.
“So, rather than destroy pristine environments all over The Bahamas, I support any project that’s going to come to Freeport. Of course, it’s going to have to mitigate any environmental damage but we need jobs. People in Freeport are starving, some are hopeless, they can’t pay their utilities…”
Smith said he does not oppose development, but welcomes the right kind of development.