A group of Bahamians yesterday voiced their concerns and objections to the proposed North Andros Green Free Trade Zone that has been submitted to the government by multibillionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, despite a recent vote by the North Andros Council in approval of it.
The proposal, which was submitted to the government in September 2019, promises to build an international airport and shipping port, research hospital and eco-tourism amenities in Morgan’s Bluff, Andros, and to provide in excess of 10,000 jobs in exchange for 500,000 acres in land concessions and the approval to harvest 360 square miles of aragonite in a water concession.
Attorney and activist Paul Moss led the group of concerned citizens in a virtual press conference yesterday, during which they expressed their fears of the negative environmental and economic impact of the project.
“We know that there was a vote that took place yesterday sometime where the local government decided to give the approval of the mining contracts to the group and there are supposed to be other developments there by an investor, a billionaire who has his roots out of California and so many destinations,” Moss said.
“But we feel this is something that is terribly wrong, that has to have the stamp and approval of not only the people of Andros, but certainly the wider Bahamian community, because it’s a place where we all live and that is why we want to bring it to your attention.”
Prescot Smith, an Andros resident who is against the proposed project, said he doesn’t believe the local government officials who voted in favor of the project actually understand the full scope of the proposal.
“Even though the council voted on that, it has created a huge storm here on the island. The central government, the prime minister, ultimately makes the decision. But what the investors seek to do is try to secure and say the people of Andros are supporting it and therefore it puts more pressure on the central government to go along with it. But that’s not what really took place,” he said.
Smith believes the majority of residents on the island would not be happy with that level of development.
“People were calling me, many of them are afraid to speak out,” he said.
The proposal is seeking the same kind of arrangement with the government as the 1955 Hawksbill Creek Agreement with Wallace Grove/Grand Bahama Port Authority for Freeport Free Trade Zone.
However Smith argued the long-lasting impact of that agreement has benefitted the Bahamian people far less than it did the developers in that instance.
He asked, “The amount of concessions that is being extended for the project, where in the history of The Bahamas and the world has a sovereign nation given so much of its land to a private entity?”
Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest has said that this project, with an expected value in the hundreds of millions of dollars, has not been brought up for discussion at a Cabinet level.