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‘A realization of our worst fears,’ environmentalists say

The government’s heads of agreement with Disney Cruise Line for a cruise port project on South Eleuthera is a “realization of our worst environmental, economic and societal fears,” a group of environmentalists said yesterday.

In a joint statement, the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), reEarth, Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas said they felt betrayed by the agreement.

“What we see described in this HOA is a high volume, high-impact project encompassing not only massive infrastructure but substantial and irreversible alteration of the natural surroundings at Lighthouse Point,” the group said.

“What we see is a repeat or worse of Castaway Cay, where Disney quite literally manufactured an artificial beach, dredged an enormous channel, and turned what used to be a pristine island of stunning beauty into an amusement park that bears virtually no resemblance to the rest of The Bahamas.”

On March 7, the government signed a heads of agreement with Disney Cruise Line for a cruise project at Lighthouse Point in South Eleuthera. Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis tabled the agreement in the House of Assembly yesterday.

“The heads of agreement tabled in Parliament today between DCL Island Development, Ltd., referred to as Disney Cruise Lines, and the government of The Bahamas is a realization of our worst environmental, economic and societal fears,” the group said.

“It is a betrayal of the promises made of the economic future to the people of South Eleuthera, and a betrayal of the very mandate of transparency and openness on which this government was elected.”

On October 19, 2018, the government approved Disney’s proposal to develop a cruise port at 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.

Critics accused the government of signing the heads of agreement “in the dead of night”.

The statement continued, “What we see in this HOA is Disney excluding Bahamians from any real economic opportunities as the company stipulates it will not only construct but also operate all dining and beverage, merchandise and retail, spa, aquatics and recreational facilities at Lighthouse Point.

“In this HOA, we are finding out for the first time that Disney will be leasing the seabed for the next 50 years to build a $250-million pier, a half-a-mile long, which will dominate the view from their proposed national park.

“What we don’t see is a commitment to applying the highest, internationally-recognized environmental standards, independent of corporate interests and cruise port standards.

“What we don’t see is any assurance of public access and a level economic playing field on which Bahamians can effectively compete for tourist dollars. What we don’t see is any assurance that bringing 12,000 to 20,000 people to one of the most treasured and fragile sites in The Bahamas can create more than 150 jobs, at best.

“Where in this HOA [were] any protections put in place for Bahamian entrepreneurs or the environment?

“Now we see why this document was signed in the dead of night, away from the eyes of the press and the Bahamian people at large.”

According to the agreement, the government has agreed to lease to Disney Cruise Line portions of the seabed in South Eleuthera at a cost of $1,000 per acre for 50 years, for its $250 million to $400 million cruise port at Lighthouse Point.

The document notes that the portion of the seabed to be leased by the government consists of the seabed underlying the proposed pier, berth and marina for the project.

Rachel Knowles

Staff Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues.
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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