October 01, 2013
A new environmental organization claims that development of a controversial pier is already underway in Bimini, despite the company and the government stating that developers Resorts World Bimini have yet to receive approvals to begin construction.
In a video shown to the media at the law offices of Ferreira & Company, an environmental attorney and consultant, the newly launched Waterkeeper Alliance exhibited footage of what appears to be the driving of metal pylons into the seabed in Bimini at the Resorts World Bimini project.
While The Nassau Guardian could not independently verify the authenticity of the footage, the group claims that it was recorded recently on the island.
The group is now joining the call for the release of an environmental impact assessment relating to the Bimini project, and throwing its support behind a judicial review threat to the development.
This latest development with respect to the Resorts World Bimini development follows expressions of "deep concern" by the Bahamas National Trust last week following the release of a statement by the developer, whose headline stated: "Resorts World Bimini Commences Construction of New Marine Hotel, Providing Additional Employment Opportunities; Teams Mobilize Construction of New Pier."
The BNT, Save the Bays and the Waterkeeper Alliance have all suggested that construction of what is believed to be a planned 1,000-foot long pier in the area proposed by Resorts World Bimini would be likely to have a detrimental environmental impact given nearby coral reefs, which have made Bimini a world-renowned dive destination and home to a highly productive marine spawning ground.
Their concerns have been heightened by the recent statements from the company, which come despite the fact that no environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been released for public consumption in relation to the project.
The company, which is set to invest $300 million in the next stage of investment on the island after acquiring the Bimini Bay Resort in March 2013 has stated that it wishes to build a new pier to accommodate the direct docking of its Bimini Superfast Ferry which now brings tourists from Florida to Bimini on a daily basis.
By removing the need for visitors to be brought to the island from the boat by tender, this would enable tourists to spend more time on the island and further boost spending and local incomes, Resorts World Bimini has suggested.
Following the publication of comments from the BNT questioning this pier-related "mobilization" in light of indications that no EIA had been released publicly, and by the Minster of Tourism and MP for the island Obie Wilchcombe, suggesting no permits had yet been given, Resorts World Bimini provided a follow-up statement in which it said that "the developer is mobilizing teams in anticipation of receiving the construction permits which it has applied for any day now".
Director of Public Affairs for Resorts World Bimini, Michelle Malcolm stated: "I wish to advise that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been submitted and approvals to the EIA were granted based on certain conditions, including submission of an environmental management plan that has also been submitted. Our initial submissions were made earlier this year back in April and May.
"You are welcomed to contact the relevant agency, BEST or the Ministry of the Environment, for details."
BEST Commission Director Phillip Weech declined to respond to Guardian Business' questions relating to Resorts World Bimini and its submissions to the government yesterday.
Minister of the Environment Kenred Dorsett later confirmed that BEST has received a copy of an EIA from Resorts World Bimini in relation to the pier and other proposed developments by Resorts World on the island. He said that the document was not yet "final" and discussions are ongoing with the company over their submissions to the government.
Dorsett said: "It's an ongoing process; the BEST commission is in contact with the company with a view to us settling on the EIA.
Once that's done, then clearly there'll be a document we can then speak to." Asked if the government plans to have the EIA posted for public viewing and input prior to any permits - which the company said it expects to receive within days - being provided, Dorsett suggested this had yet to be determined.
"I think that whether or not the document is released is a matter that I will certainly discuss with colleagues but in normal instances - in the past - I know that certain EIAs have been posted on the BEST Commission site, so they have indicated that normally comes with approval from the executive. So when we get to point that there is a final EIA, that is something we will consider as it is a matter of interest to Biminites."
The footage purporting to show the construction of the pier was released at the launch of the Waterkeeper Alliance Bahamas chapter.
The Waterkeeper Alliance is an international grassroots advocacy organization founded by Robert Kennedy Jr., which seeks to protect communities, eco-systems and water quality worldwide. Joseph Darville, environmental activist and now the "Waterkeeper", said that the Bahamian chapter intends to focus on Bimini as a "priority program" as it pushes for the government to ensure sustainability as a critical element in all developments.
The organization stressed it is not "anti-development", but will seek regulated, sustainable activity that does not destroy the environment for future generations or sacrifice the protection and prosperity it provides for short term gain.
Admitting that it is not illegal but merely ill-advised for any development to proceed without providing an EIA for public scrutiny, the alliance is calling on the government to pass an Environmental Protection Act in order to enshrine this requirement in Bahamian law.
Without such an act, Romauld Ferreira, who is the legal counsel and consultant for the alliance, noted that a judicial review of the situation "is the only thing we can avail ourselves of" in terms of legal recourse in cases where there may be concerns over development activity. Describing the Bimini scenario as one of "cloak and dagger and secrecy", Ferreira added that, as it stands, The Bahamas is a signatory to UN conventions, which call for EIAs to be made available for public consumption and input prior to any government decisions being made on development approvals.
"What our organizations, Save the Bays and the Waterkeeper Alliance, desire is very simple and attainable: to establish a symbiotic relationship between industry and other major developments without negatively and significantly impacting our delicate eco-system - our land, our sea, seabed, beaches, coral reefs, sand, marshes and mangroves, our bays and our undervalued wetlands."
An email seeking comment on the alleged pier construction activity sent to Michelle Malcolm, director of public affairs for Resorts World Bimini, was not returned up to press time.
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