Eleuthera residents elated after Gov’t. grants approval to Disney

Just days after Disney Cruise Lines was given Government approval to develop a $400 million cruise port on the controversial Lighthouse Point property on the southernmost tip of Eleuthera, several residents on Sunday expressed that they were pleased with the government’s decision.

“I am elated,” said Bernadette Sweeting, a resident of Green Castle. “Everyone here in Green Castle was thrilled and we felt good that the Prime Minister listened to us.

“I was advocating for the people here that don’t have work, for the people who sit on the blocks.

“For the prime minister to have listened to us, we know it only could be the hands of God and I am excited, I am elated and I am grateful.”

Sweeting said she anticipates great things when Disney begins its operations at Lighthouse Point. She did state, however, that she is aware that the company’s presence would not be a “saviour” for all residents.

“It won’t save the entire Eleuthera, but it will open more doors and create more opportunities, and that is what we are excited about,” she said.

Sweeting said  it is her belief that Disney’s presence would also “awaken” local employers to offer better incentives to staff.

“They must be paid a little bit more because they are underpaid and I believe all of this will change when Disney comes on stream because we will have an option.”

Denny Rankine, a Eleuthera businessman told Eyewitness News last night that Eleuthera residents needed a substantial project like Disney to revive that island’s depressed economy.

“We have had people come in and out for years and saying they will do something and nothing has ever happened,” Rankine claimed.

“Now we have a reputable company like Disney who will not put that kind of money [$400 million] up just to waste time and talk. We have a lot of people who believe in them. They got it [approval] and we are overjoyed really. In listening to them over the past two months, and the time frame in which they want to do it, it is exciting. This is an opportunity that we could not afford to pass up,” Rankine said.

“We are talking about three ships coming on line in the next three years, which means that they have to work fast, and that in and of itself means that people will be getting some work and won’t have to work 7 to 10 years for it.”

In a statement released Friday, Cabinet said The National Economic Council approved the proposal submitted by Disney Cruise Line Island Development Ltd.

Negotiations will now begin on a Heads of Agreement, which will detail the scope of the project, the obligations of the Disney Cruise Lines and the obligations of the government. When concluded,  the Heads of Agreement will be presented to Parliament.

The statement further outlined that the land, which is the subject of the proposal, is privately owned and Disney has a sales agreement with the land owner to purchase the land.

The decision, cabinet said, was made after reviewing Disney’s proposal as well as One Eleuthera, who was also vying to purchase and develop the land.

Cabinet also said it took into consideration the views of the majority of the people of Central and South Eleuthera, and is satisfied that it has made the best decision in the interest of the Bahamian people, the people of Central and South Eleuthera and the economic development of the country.

Cabinet said it also took note of a recent town hall meeting  in Green Castle  where overwhelming support was expressed for Disney.

It also noted that a recent poll revealed that more than 60 percent of Bahamians said they were in favour of the Disney cruise port.

The Government said that Disney has a record of environmental stewardship and will ensure that the project is implemented in a manner which safeguards the environment and the interests of the people of The Bahamas.

One Eleuthera, who was also vying to develop the Lighthouse Point property had threatened to mount a Judicial Review over the lack of proper consultation if the government chose Disney.

In response, Cabinet said it notes prior to that town meeting, that the [One Eleuthera] Foundation and its partners held several community meetings in Central and South Eleuthera to promote their proposal.

Meanwhile, when asked last night why residents appeared to favour Disney rather than the One Eleuthera group, Denny Rankine, the Eleuthera businessman said ‘trust’ was an issue.

“The fact that these folks [One Eleuthera] were interested in this piece of property for so long and had not done anything about it or didn’t even seem to be considering it seriously until Disney came along, made a lot of people think,” Rankine claimed.

“They just didn’t think that One Eleuthera had the capacity to actually do what they said they were going to do. Disney responded to all the concerns of One Eleuthera in ways that were satisfactory to most of the people on the island. At the end of the day we have to look at what is best for the people here in the short and the long term.”

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