By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Resorts and bonefishing guides yesterday expressed outrage that a Bahamian company was seeking approval for sand mining just outside a proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) off eastern Grand Bahama, fearing it will jeopardise both investments and livelihoods.
Deep Water Cay, the multi-million dollar eco-resort in eastern Grand Bahama, together with the fishing community and inhabitants of Sweeting’s Cay, are all opposed to the proposal, Tribune Business understands.
Sources informed this newspaper that an application to mine sand just off Bursus Cay, located south-east of the Deep Water Cay, resort had been submitted to the Government by a local firm.
Tribune Business is not naming that firm, as both it and its principal did not return numerous messages seeking confirmation and comment, but sources suggested it was seeking approval to dredge for sand to a depth of 16 feet.
This, they added, would damage the fisheries flats in both the immediate and surrounding areas.
Not surprisingly, the proposal has sparked alarm among businesses and entrepreneurs that depending on the fishing industry and natural environment for their livelihoods.
Paul R. Vahldiek Jnr, co-owner of Deep Water Cay (DWC), which has been the subject of a $30 million investment, said: “We were very shocked to hear about a proposed dredging operation in such a pristine and ecologically sensitive and significant marine environment.
“We owners of DWC have invested tens of millions of dollars in DWC in order to support our beautiful resort and the surrounding communities and its citizens. We are hoping to grow our business through both the creation of jobs and the preservation of the chosen lifestyle of our neighbours, and many related industries who depend on a healthy marine environment.”
Mr Vahldiek added: “McLean’s Town, Sweetings Cay and many folks and companies on Grand Bahama depend on high-paying recreational tourist dollars supporting a wide range of business interests - construction jobs, building houses, appliance sales, engine sales, provisioning companies, fuelling companies, and folks working as guides, cooks, housekeeping, landscape personnel and maintenance/mechanics etc.
“Our investment in DWC is threatened by this news and, more importantly, so is the environment and the livelihood of many individuals and companies.
“We hope to understand what is happening and to be given a chance to be part of the conversation before this happens.”
Eric Carey, the Bahamas National Trust’s (BNT) executive director, confirmed to Tribune Business that Bursus Cay lay just outside the MPA and National Park they had proposed to the Christie administration.
He confirmed receiving numerous calls from persons about the proposed sand mining, but had been unable to confirm any details - or whether even such a project was going ahead - with any government agency.
Mr Carey said the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology (BEST) Commission had told the BNT they were unaware of any sand mining proposal for Bursus Cay, while no response had been received from the Port Department as Commander Patrick McNeil was out of office at the time.
“Bursus Cay is in very close proximity to an area that we have identified to submit to the Government for a new National Park in eastern Grand Bahama,” Mr Carey said.
He added that the BNT had consulted heavily with the fishing industry, and wider communities, in McLeans Town and Sweeting’s Cay, and carried out a rapid ecological assessment of the area.
“We’ve given indications to the Government that it should be protected, and included it in a White Paper submitted to the Government for a Marine Protected Area,” Mr Carey said.
He added that Bursus Cay lay just outside the proposed area, which had “significant, unique features” such as a coral reef found in a tidal bed.
The BNT executive director said his main concern was whether any sand mining would impact the proposed MPA and National Park.
Meanwhile, Omeko Glinton, a professional bonefishing guide at Deep Water Cay for 17 years, said: “I also grew up right here in McLeans Town. In other words, I have spent my whole life on the water.
“This would be one of the most detrimental things anyone could do, not just for the natural habitat, which also includes conch, lobster, bonefish and many more species, but also to the many people who have been using these areas to support them and their families.”
Mr Glinton described the area as “a gold mine”, and something that needed to be preserved for future generations.
Sources also told Tribune Business that the Sweetings Cay community had rejected any notion of sand mining at a recent Town Meeting.