Atlantis president raises concerns over RCI project

Atlantis President and Managing Director Audrey Oswell yesterday called on the government to put the brakes on the $100 million Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Paradise Island Beach Club and ensure a “heightened level of scrutiny and discourse” before the cruise line is given any final approval for the project.

“I believe the green light is premature, with so many unanswered questions regarding the project’s environmental and economic impact still to be addressed,” said Oswell in a statement that came two days after Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper announced the government has granted RCI approval for its project.

Cooper said the beach club will create hundreds of jobs, both during the construction and operational phases, “further contributing meaningfully to the tourism rebound and economic growth that has been set in motion by the focused policy initiatives of this administration”.

He also said final approval is subject to submission and approval of a standard Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and an Environmental Management Plan.

The following day, Prime Minister Philip Davis told reporters he expects RCI to break ground on the project at the western end of Paradise Island “almost immediately”.

But Oswell said “not so fast”.

“Like many in our Paradise Island community, I was puzzled by the government’s statements, including the suggestion that the RCI groundbreaking would take place, ‘almost immediately,’ despite the outstanding environmental review,” she said.

“I appreciate my subsequent communications with Prime Minister Davis, who has assured me that all environmental due process will be followed.

“What is needed now, before it’s too late, is a heightened level of scrutiny and discourse.

“Too much is at stake to stay silent. It has not been confirmed that the RCI project does not pose serious threats to our beautiful beaches, marine life, and their habitats.

“If this residential land is overdeveloped or the beaches and coastline altered in anyway, the Paradise Island coastline, Cable Beach, Saunders Beach, and our economic livelihood stand to suffer.

“It is not surprising that with few opportunities throughout the review process for the voices of citizens and businesses to be heard, public awareness of these impacts has not kept up with the severity of these threats.”

In opposition, Davis himself cited possible damage to marine life as a result of the “consequent increase in shuttle traffic between Prince George Dock and Paradise Island” from the RCI project.

Oswell said that in response to the first presentation by RCI to the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP), Atlantis raised over 50 questions mostly related to potential environmental threats.

“To date, we have received no response,” she said.

Oswell added, “For the past 25 years, Atlantis has worked to protect the waters of The Bahamas, including the Paradise Island coastline.

“Protection of the ocean, marine life and their fragile habitats is at the core of who we are.

“Consistent with this focus and commitment, we have watched as closely as possible the proposed RCI project progress.

“During this period, we’ve developed significant environmental, life-safety concerns about this proposed large-scale, high-volume beach club experience.

“Much of this land was previously used for private residences accessible only by boat.”

In her statement yesterday, the Atlantis president highlighted several specific concerns:

w There are potentially devastating impacts to the Paradise Island coastline and the pristine beaches with any expansion of beach areas, overwater cabanas, seawalls, jetties, or other structures. For example, we have identified and assessed the thriving coral reef at the north seabed and determined that potential impacts to the health of this reef must be carefully assessed and mitigated.

w The impact of additional boat traffic in Nassau harbor to ferry guests, supplies, RCI employees, and other support service workers has not been adequately assessed. The increased volume of activity in Nassau harbor to support the beach club operations will potentially restrict further expansion of marinas, the re-establishment of seaplane service for Paradise Island, development opportunities on Paradise Island and in the blighted waterfront areas of downtown Nassau, as well as other commercial vessel activity. Noise from music, large volumes of people, jet skis and other amenities offered at the project site pose potential threats to neighboring residential property owners and Atlantis.

w The desalination and wastewater treatment plants required to service the project could potentially threaten the water source for all of Paradise Island. Odors, noise and the handling of discharge from such plants are also of particular concern. If RCI intends for wastewater to be transferred via a pressurized line under the channel, there is strong risk associated with transmission line failures in Nassau harbor. The handling and processing of large volumes of solid waste where access to the project site is only by boat present unique challenges and risks.

w Emergency services and evacuation plans that do not exist today would have to be developed, as large numbers of people will be using the beach club facilities daily.

w The proposed beach project would assure that thousands of RCI visitors to Paradise Island will bypass our downtown, negatively impacting merchants, restaurants and other venues that rely on tourism.

w And finally, moving forward with the project would privatize Paradise Island’s last public beach, currently frequented and enjoyed by our community.

Oswell said citizens can take specific action.

“We all must make our voices heard and insist that the government put on the brakes and follow through on a serious examination of the impact this proposed project will have on our environment and businesses,” she said.

“Share your thoughts and insist on answers from the Ministry of the Environment, the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection and RCI. And we at Atlantis will be taking a more active role in encouraging dialogue and transparency.

“Coastal development must be done with precision to avoid long-term adverse impact. A few months of true due diligence is critical to avoid decades of irreversible harm.”

Cooper, the minister of tourism, investments and aviation, said the government is satisfied that it has addressed previous objections to the project by ensuring much greater Bahamian participation at all phases of the construction and in the ongoing operations.

“RCI has been an outstanding partner with The Bahamas and its commitment to deepening its relationship with The Bahamas was also a key consideration in granting approval,” he said.

In opposition, Davis said, “Given RCI’s longstanding operations in The Bahamas, there is no proven additional economic value or exercise of any corporate social responsibility. This latest deal simply generates more profits for Royal Caribbean.”

The Davis administration insists that its restructured deal with RCI will be better for the Bahamian people, though the environmental study has yet to be completed.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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