NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The ‘Disney After Dorian’ conference staged by environmentalists against the Lighthouse Point project was not without controversy on Monday.
Several Bahamians from Eleuthera told Eyewitness News Online they were offended by the remarks on Lighthouse Point given by the conference’s keynote speaker Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Kennedy asserted that corporations target black communities like ones found in The Bahamas as he trailed his successes in representing minorities in the fight against developments like the one proposed by Disney.
“The poorest communities – communities of colour, are always the communities that show the disproportionate burden of environmental injury,” he said.
“They are always the communities to whom corporations make big promises, and they end up bearing the weight of those broken promises afterward.”
Kennedy criticized Disney for making promises that are not enforceable.
He suspects that Disney wants to “treat the planet, and Southern Eleuthera, as if they were a business in liquidation- converting natural resources to cash as soon as possible.”
He described Disney’s plans as an “illusion of prosperity” and emphasized that developers typically walk away from projects once they have to “put it in writing and make it enforceable”.
As the audience began to chime in during Kennedy’s presentation, he made clear who his criticisms were aimed at.
“I don’t have a beef with you,” he said.
Kennedy clarified that he has “beef” with a company who is trying to come to a country and attempts to take shortcuts that they would not be able to get away with elsewhere.
“They come here because they know they can take shortcuts here.”
An audience member interrupted Kennedy’s presentation with the question: “What are the shortcuts they are taking in The Bahamas?”
Kennedy said Disney should do an honest Environmental Impact Statement and release it to the public.
“Do it transparently before a decision is made by the Government.”
The audience member accused Kennedy of suggesting that “the Bahamian government has no education, or we are a bunch of stupid people in the black community.”
Spencer Thompson, a resident of Deep Creek, South Eleuthera gave Eyewitness News Online his thoughts on the remarks made by Kennedy.
“Mr. Kennedy is here referencing Princess Cays,” Thompson said.
“That was some 40 years ago, when that deal was a ‘golden deal’. I want to ask Mr. Kennedy if 30 years from today he thinks any deal we make today will be a good deal?”
“As time changes, life evolves” noted Thompson.
“We have to look at what we have today and deal with what we have now.
“We cannot allow persons to tell us what is going to be good 30 years down the road.”
Bernadette Sweeting of Greencastle, Eleuthera said she was “hurt and offended” when Mr. Kennedy referred to the outskirts of Princess Cay as a ghetto.
As a former employee of Urban Renewal, Sweeting recalls going door-to-door to garner feedback from Eleutherans.
She said the 150 jobs may seem few, but it provides 150 more than what now exists.
“The magnitude of this development will trickle down through the entire Bahamas,” she said.
Sweeting highlighted that she understands the ecological impacts, however, “while we can think about the environment, people need food to eat”.
Kennedy reiterated that Disney needs to put their promises in writing.
However, some members in the crowd insisted that this is being done.
Eleuthera residents that attended the event insisted they came to the conference out of love for their island, and not as persons paid to rebut.
“If Disney was putting up money, there would not be an empty seat in here today,” another audience member said.
Residents were also critical about the conference taking place in the country’s capital.
“The same way we caught a flight to come to your meeting; you had the same opportunity to come to Eleuthera to hear what Disney presented to Eleuthera,” said an Eleuthera resident.
The resident continued: “You keep saying there’s nothing in writing, but maybe not yet. The process is still alive- in process.”
Rashema Ingraham, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Bahamas, and a panellist at the conference noted that the event was executed with the intention of showing that there is a movement of people who are ready and willing to sit down with Disney and have their concerns heard.
She added that these persons have been involved in several different environmental issues where the impacts of dredging on coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves have been seen.
“We understand the importance of an area like Lighthouse Point,” Ingraham said.
Disney Cruise Line purchased the Lighthouse Point property in 2019 and has since signed a Heads of Agreement with the Government.
The Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by Disney in late December is expected to be posted on the BEST Commission’s website after their feedback is incorporated, and government reviews are complete.
Disney Cruise Lines has previously stated “additional public consultation related to the Environmental Impact Assessment will occur as part of the site plan approval process.”