Says HOA reveals project is larger and potentially more damaging than previously described
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Environmental groups BREEF, reEarth, Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas expressed on Thursday that they are deeply concerned with the terms of the Heads of Agreement (HOA) tabled in Parliament last week for the proposed cruise port and entertainment facility at Lighthouse Point in Bannerman Town, South Eleuthera.
“The HOA reveals the proposed project is much larger and potentially more damaging than previously described,” the environmental groups expressed in an issued statement.
“It sidesteps promises of full access to the site for Bahamians and raises new, troubling questions about the economic benefits for the country.”
The proposed development at Lighthouse Point has a projected investment of between $250m and $400m and thus far, Disney has completed the acquisition of the property from the private seller.
When the HOA signing was announced earlier this month, a statement released from the Office of the Prime Minister outlined that construction of the project will not begin until the Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Plan are reviewed and approved.
But on Thursday, the environmental groups called upon Disney to prepare a world-class environmental impact assessment (EIA), to consider alternatives, and to conduct an economic analysis that would be open to public review and consultation.
“In September 2018, Disney issued its so-called Economic Development Project for South Eleuthera, assuring Bahamians LHP would be used for low-density purposes like beach chairs, umbrellas and small support structures. The HOA, however, embraces a huge infrastructure project that will forever change the area’s landscape,” the environmentalists claimed.
“The agreement also makes public for the first time a 50-year lease of the sea bed for Disney’s more than half-mile-long $250 million pier – a bridge-to-nowhere. Importantly, Disney reserves the right to seek permits to do whatever is necessary to construct the pier and cruise port marina.”
The environmentalists said under the terms of the HOA, Bahamians will be severely curtailed in their economic access to passengers and will not experience anything resembling the promised ‘economic vitality’ that captured the imagination of South Eleutherans.
The environmentalists said they also have an issue with the fact that revenues are untouchable.
“Remarkably, the HOA pledges to Disney that its LHP revenues will never be taxed in any form. It further exempts Disney from the payment of real property taxes for 20 years, such exemption thereafter renewable every 10 years,” the environmentalists said.
The group is also asking for evidence to show that there would be some economic benefit from the project. According to the environmentalists, the HOA cites an Oxford Economics study commissioned by Disney asserting that Bahamian GDP would grow by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 25 years, but this report has since been characterized as “proprietary” and protected from public scrutiny.
As for Disney’s promise of 150 jobs, the environmentalists on Thursday asked why would the public be satisfied with this ‘unenforceable target’ when they were told that Disney would bring as many as 20,000 passengers per week to Lighthouse Point.
“Disney will decide who gets hired and from what country at the detriment of Bahamian labour,” the environmentalists expressed, adding that they were also concerned about access and commercial opportunity.
“Bahamians will be only be allowed to use the property and the sea around it, subject to the sole discretion of Disney with respect to every imaginable activity.
“As such, Bahamian entrepreneurs will be sharply curtailed and the rights of Bahamians to fish and use the waters around Lighthouse Point will be restricted,” the environmentalists said.
Meanwhile, the environmentalists concluded by saying that the people of The Bahamas deserve no less than a fully-informed meaningful public process about the Lighthouse Point project, to determine whether to proceed with such a massive project at such a special place.