A group of 14 scientists and environmentalists has written to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis urging him to reject a proposed $580 million project for South Abaco by the Tyrsoz family.
The group claimed that “a development of this scale would result in irreversible negative socioeconomic impacts on local communities as well as dire environmental consequences for many species living in the area”.
The project was announced during Minnis’ January 2019 national address.
The proposed project by the Tyrsoz family involves the upgrade and expansion of the Sandy Point airstrip; the development of the Sandy Point ferry dock as a cargo transshipment port and construction area; and the extension of Queen’s Highway in South Abaco, the prime minister said.
In an April 15 letter to the prime minister, the group outlined several environmental impact concerns, socioeconomic impacts on local communities and financial sustainability and credibility concerns with the project.
The group claimed the development would negatively impact local wildlife, the environment and local fishermen.
“We are writing to convey our grave concerns and strong opposition to the proposed large-scale development in South Abaco,” the group said.
“The below signatories or their representative attended a presentation on April 9th, 2019 made by Ra’anan ‘Ronnie’ Ben-Zur on behalf of the Tyrsoz Family Holdings Ltd., describing their plans for a huge project in an ecologically sensitive area that is recognized internationally for its significance.
“While we understand the need for sustainable job opportunities for Bahamians in South Abaco, we believe that a development of this scale would result in irreversible negative socioeconomic impacts on local communities as well as dire environmental consequences for many species living in the area.
“For the many reasons given below, we (our collective group of Bahamian and international scientists and environmentalists) strongly oppose Mr. Ben-Zur’s proposed plans for South Abaco.”
According to the letter, Ben-Zur’s presentation outlined plans for a two-site, ultra-high-end residential and hotel development on two blocks of land in South Abaco totaling 1,086 acres.
The respective sites are Lantern Head, which is adjacent to the Abaco National Park, and South West Point, which is in the middle of the proposed expansion of the Cross Harbour National Park.
The group noted that Ben-Zur expressed a plan to establish a private fixed based operation at the Sandy Point airstrip, extend the runway and pave a 30-foot wide road through nine miles of the Abaco National Park to Hole in the Wall Lighthouse.
The development would include a 50-room six-star hotel, 75 residential lots in a gated community and an 18-hole golf course at Lantern Head as well as two hotels with 175 rooms plus 80 residential lots, a 136-slip mega-yacht marina, a marina village with retail stores and a water park at South West Point.
The two sites would have close to 400 residential units.
“We are sadly all too familiar with other projects on Abaco and elsewhere in The Bahamas where projects have been started but never completed or have been abandoned (e.g., Schooner Bay, Serenity Point, Ginn Bahamas), leaving environmental damage without providing the promised economic benefits to the communities involved,” the letter said.
“Before conducting any further discussion on this project, the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) should secure performance bonds for an amount equal to at least 125 percent of the $580 million estimated cost of the project, i.e., a minimum bond of $725 million.”
The letter claimed that the project proposal would also see significant impact on the Abaco parrot, the Kirtland’s warbler, bonefish, corals, commercial scalefish, whales and dolphins, and also fresh water resources.
It further noted that the project would see negative impacts to local fishermen, to Bahamian bonefishing guides and lodge owners, to Abaco’s tourism image, to the growing bird-watching industry and to the historical sites surrounding the proposed project.
“The proposed development in South Abaco by Mr. Ben-Zur emphasizes the need to elevate environmental issues with policymakers,” the letter said.
“We strongly recommend that before any further consideration of this proposed project continues, all relevant stakeholders be given enough time to thoroughly review and comment on the complete proposal that was submitted to the government of The Bahamas along with the environmental impact assessment upon its completion.
“This would indicate whether additional assessments would be required to identify more potentially sensitive habitats, vulnerable species, impacts to water resources, etc., before this proposal would be ready for actual evaluation.”
The letter was signed by directors from Friends of the Environment, the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization, the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the Abaco Fly-Fishing Guide Association and scientists from the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, the Audobon Society and the Perry Institute of Marine Science.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications