By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The controversy-plagued Oceania Heights project has been plunged into a fresh row over the two-month shut off of its water supply, one homeowner yesterday alleging real estate values were now “10 per cent of what we paid for them”.
Chris Fleming, who has led the homeowner campaign at the Exuma-based project, told Tribune Business that the subdivision’s nine existing homes were being “held hostage” by developer Howard Obront’s refusal to pay a four-figure water bill for his home.
He also slammed the Ministry of Works and Water & Sewerage Corporation, asserting that it was “unbelievable” that they approved a water system for Oceania Heights where everything was placed on one meter - leaving the project at the mercy of non-payers.
However, Mr Obront’s Bahamian attorney yesterday blasted Mr Fleming’s claims as “disingenuous”.
Michael Scott, of Scott & Company, told Tribune Business said the problem stemmed from the water bill for Oceania Heights’ common (community) areas being lumped in with his client’s personal bill, and Mr Obront was no longer prepared to continue this arrangement.
Arguing that Mr Fleming and the other homeowners shared equal responsibility with his client for separating their water meters into separate accounts, Mr Scott said he had “not had much success” in finding out whether Anthony Thompson, the project’s attorney, had made good on his pledge to provide title deeds to all fully-paid purchasers.
A solution to the much-publicised Oceania Heights dispute, which has sparked interventions from both the US and Canadian governments on behalf of its homeowner citizens, thus seems as elusive as ever.
Mr Fleming, alleging that the Water & Sewerage Corporation has cut-off Oceanian Heights’ water supply for eight weeks, told Tribune Business: “It is unbelievable to me that the Government of the Bahamas approved a system such that these nine homes, all of our shrubbery, greenery is going to be fried and die.
“Our pools are all completely green and need to be refilled. The homes are in tremendous disrepair, and no one cares.”
Mr Fleming said he and fellow Oceania Heights residents had previously paid to have the water pumps repaired, despite Mr Obront’s alleged refusal to contribute.
In relation to the current situation, Mr Fleming said: “He [Mr Obront] refuses to pay the bill, and the Water & Sewerage Corporation has shut the meter off for the entire development.
“It’s all in the name of Oceania Heights Ltd, which is Anthony Thompson, but it’s Howard Obront’s home that he refuses to pay the bill for. We are all held hostage because of him.”
Mr Fleming alleged that Mr Obront had a water leak at his home, which had contributed to his share of the outstanding Oceania Heights water bill being $2,238.
A further $1,000 is said to be owed for water usage at Oceania Heights’ common area, and Mr Fleming said the formation of a Homeowners Association would in future see “all the lot owners pay a proportionate share of that bill”.
“Right now, it’s Mr Obront’s responsibility,” Mr Fleming said of the common areas.
Not surprisingly, that account was disputed by Mr Scott on Mr Obront’s behalf. The common area bill, the attorney said, was “getting lumped in” with his client’s personal water bill, and “Howard is no longer prepared to pay for that”.
“The property owners should be separately metered, have their own accounts and pay for the water consumption for the common areas,” Mr Scott told Tribune Business.
“Fleming is in a position, as a homeowner, as much as Howard is, to ensure Water & Sewerage separates the metering functions.
“From my perspective, and Howard’s perspective, that is simply a disingenuous stance being adopted by Fleming.”
Such reasoning is unlikely to sit well with Mr Fleming, who told Tribune Business: “People shouldn’t be held hostage by this very poor situation.
“The Ministry of Works approved Oceania Heights as a subdivision on November 1, 2005. They approved the water system for Oceania Heights that was presented to them.
“Residents were never told that was the case, that one person could hold hostage the entire community.... We don’t even know where the water pipes are.”
Questioning whether the developers, Messrs Obront and Thompson, had lodged a bond with the Ministry of Works, as required by law, to ensure all infrastructure works at Oceania Heights were completed, Mr Fleming added: “That water system is inoperable.
“The value of our properties is probably less than 10 per cent of what we paid for them. That’s how bad it’s gotten.
“All of the water in the toilets has evaporated, and that exposes you to the septic system, as gas gets into your home and could be a danger. It’s a bad situation that’s only gotten worse.”
Meanwhile, Mr Scott said he had been unable to discover whether Mr Thompson had made good on his May 13 pledge to turn over all title documents to Oceania Heights buyers who had fully paid their purchase prices, and from whom he had received Stamp Duty monies.
“I’ve been trying to find out from Anthony Thompson, his lawyer (Keod Smith), the Deputy Prime Minister as to whether that undertaking has been honoured, and I’ve not had much success,” Mr Scott told Tribune Business.
“I’ve been trying to find out as I really want this problem to go away, and have not had much success at all.
“As the attorney for the company, he [Mr Thompson] was required to hand over deeds and documents to purchasers, collect Stamp Duty and recording fees, and do the necessary work. That has got absolutely nothing to do with Howard.”