Oban town meeting turns venting session
Tempers flared in an explosive a town hall meeting in East Grand Bahama Thursday night, as Oban Energies President Satpal Dhunna, for the first time addressed residents on the proposed $5.5 billion oil refinery and storage facility.
It was a standing-room only event inside the St. Nicholas Anglican Church Hall, where the pendulum quickly swung from job creation for East Grand Bahamians to the environmental impact on the proposed construction site.
Chief among the concerns for residents was the trustworthiness of Dhunna and other company executives even after non-executive chairman Peter Krieger resigned following the fallout from the heads of agreement (HOA)signing with government.
Dhunna was asked outright by irate residents who were not in support, if and why he resigned from the company.
“Why did you resign and wipe your website clean? What do you have to hide and how can we trust you?” one resident asked.
Dhunna was quick to explain that he made no official resignation.
“It was a critical move because the company needed more managers to move ahead with the LLC process,” Dhunna countered.
“I have documents to support this that were forwarded to the Attorney General’s office. There is no resignation and I am still the president.”
But the queries surrounding Dhunna and Krieger’s involvement continued.
Another angry resident shouted, “Krieger was a fraud and you were removed and this is a bunch of malarkey.”
Andrea Thompson, a 45-year resident of East End, pleaded with Dhunna to reconsider the location of the project that he revealed will be half a mile from the Statoil storage facility.
“Grand Bahama already has an industrial park,” Thompson said. “Take your development elsewhere because we don’t want it.”
On the issue of jobs, mixed views on the project continued.
Pastor Cecil Kemp, who was born and raised in East End, said for far too long, residents have been neglected and have had to suffer due to lack of opportunity.
“The project is here now looking at us in the face and some of you don’t want it,” he said.
“Freeport had their time, West End had theirs, now it’s our time. Let East End people be about their own affairs…we want and need jobs.”
But according to Cevial Hepburn, the 600-construction phase and 250 permanent jobs upon completion promised by Dhunna, with an 80 to 20 Bahamian to foreign ratio, is simply not worth it.
“Grand Bahamians have endured enough death from persons who have lived in communities near industrial parks and we won’t and refuse to sell our souls for a couple of measly jobs,” said Hepburn. “We are no fools.”
Ismeal Laing added that he felt “disrespected” and “insulted that government made the agreement without public consultation.
“All of this is really shocking to me,” lamented Laing.
“[The] government let this process go so far without saying one word to us and now they want us to accept it. Really we have no other choice.”
According to the HOA however, if the project is not environmentally viable, it will still continue.
When questioned on this by residents, Dhunna confirmed that the project will proceed regardless and Oban Energies will only put in mitigating measures to decrease the environmental impact.
The meeting was said to be the first in a series of meetings that Oban Energies plans to have with the residents of East End.