Nearly five months after approving a controversial proposal by Disney Cruise Line to develop a cruise port at Lighthouse Point, South Eleuthera, the government has signed a heads of agreement for the project, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis revealed on Saturday.
The development is expected to cost between $250 million and $400 million, according to a statement the government released on the weekend.
In September, Disney Cruise Line President Jeff Vahle said the project was projected to cost between $350 million and $400 million.
The signing took place at the Cabinet Office last week, but the media were not invited to cover it.
Speaking at a town hall meeting in Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera, Minnis said, “I can say to you, Eleuthera, right now and the rest of The Bahamas that on [Thursday] of last week we had signed the heads of agreement, so Disney will be coming here. So, Disney is on its way here to do things here on your island.”
He added: “…I know you are happy that the project [has] finally been signed, the heads of agreement has been signed and Disney will be commencing their project very, very, very soon.”
On October 19, the government approved Disney’s proposal to develop Lighthouse Point amid raging public debate over the matter. Many people had railed against the plan, calling on the government to instead agree to a more eco-friendly project.
The agreement mandates that Disney directly employ at least 120 Bahamians during the construction of the project.
It also requires the cruise line to create “as many as 150 permanent, sustainable jobs with health benefits in a range of positions for Bahamians once construction is completed”.
“Disney also has committed to aim for an overall ratio of 80 percent Bahamian workers to 20 percent non-Bahamian workers during the life of the construction phase of the project,” the government said in a statement.
“This is subject to qualified labor being available and the need to ensure the highest level of technical compliance with international standards.”
Disney must also provide an on-property space for Bahamian vendors to sell authentic high-quality Bahamian retail goods, services, souvenirs, arts and crafts, Bahamian T-shirts and other merchandise.
The cruise line will also have to use Bahamian entertainers and give priority to Bahamian owners and operators to provide “port adventures” for Disney guests while its ships are in port.
The prime minister said, “The implementation of this project supports the government’s plan of expanding the economy of our country and economic opportunities for our people by promoting development in the Family Islands.”
There is also expected to be a 30 to 40 percent increase in the number of Disney ships calling at the Port of Nassau and the Port of Freeport in comparison to the number of calls made by the cruise line in 2018, according to the government.
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.
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 had lobbied the government for approval of an alternative proposal to turn the 700-acre property into a national park.
Disney gave the government 190 acres of land, including the southernmost point of the property, for conservation and a national park, the Minnis administration said.
The appraised value of land is $6.29 million.
It also said the cruise line “will provide all citizens and residents of The Bahamas with access to the property for non-commercial purposes” as well as assist with “identifying and enhancing tourist heritage sites in South Eleuthera and exploring opportunities to improve medical facilities that serve the residents of South and Central Eleuthera”.
On Saturday, Minnis said Disney has “committed” to a “low density development and sustainable design” of the project.
“As [a] government, we are very satisfied with the project here in Eleuthera,” he said.
“The project will be environmentally friendly and there will be no damage to our environment.”
In September, Disney’s Vice President of Public Affairs & Communications Kim Prunty told The Nassau Guardian that the company intends to complete an environmental impact assessment (EIA) once “we have the understanding that there is support and tentative approval for the project”.
However, one has yet to be completed.
According to the government, the construction of the port will not start until an EIA and environmental management plan (EMP) have been reviewed and approved.