By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
OPPOSITION Leader Hubert Minnis yesterday called on the Christie administration to address concerns raised by residents over dredging in the Treasure Cay settlement.
Dr Minnis said there was a double standard for foreign investors, and that government had made it “better in the Bahamas for non-Bahamians.”
However, North Abaco MP Renardo Curry hit back that any misinformation over the Treasure Sands Club’s “Sand Bar Club and Spa” was the result of communication failures within local government.
Responding to concerns that nearby dredging could worsen severe flooding in the area, Mr Curry said concerns raised by residents were not expert opinion, adding that there was no environmental assessment to support claims.
Mr Curry also denied claims that his office delayed handing over the government’s cease and desist order to developers, who had started dredging in the creek at the entrance to Treasure Cay without approvals.
Mr Curry said: “It never came to my office, we didn’t receive any document. I suspect that they would have sent it to administration in North Abaco and later delivered to us and that’s when we passed it on to the developer – early last week. We called him that day once we received it and said come in and he stopped it immediately.”
Mr Curry said: “It wasn’t a situation where the investor was trying to avoid obeying the law – we stressed to him once there was an official document, he would have to stop. Everybody was under the impression, including myself, that the investor had received all of his approvals to do his work. BIA had approved it, only thing lacking was reports from BEST Commission.”
Underscoring that investment was critical for economic revitalization of the settlement, Mr Curry said that local government officials were invited to preliminary meetings, and that proper protocol was followed to ensure that officials were allowed an opportunity to liaise with the community over the development.
“I was invited like everybody else to the meeting,” said Mr Curry, “it was sometime before May 2013. Once that meeting was called the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) came down and brought the relevant agencies. Local government was also invited, we would never do a project and not invite authorities, it’s a standard protocol with any government.”
“It’s their (local government) duty, to take it to the people in the area, maybe it was a breakdown of communication on them, but they can’t blame central government. The government did everything according to the rules.”
“What do you do once you follow the guidelines in terms of development? Treasure Cay needs to be revitalised. It had this potential to be one of the leading tourist destinations in the world, and it has dropped way down the ladder as a result of no injection of capital in the area.”
Approvals for the Sand Bar Club and Spa’s boutique hotel, fishing lodge, and related facilities were granted by the BIA on May 27, with dredging work subject to the approval of the BEST Commission.
Markers claimed to have been placed to guide construction work in the creek has fuelled fears that dredging work will exceed approved specifications, according to Dr Minnis, who toured the dredging site for a proposed fishing lodge and surrounding wetlands.
Dr Minnis also questioned whether the government would receive royalties on fill excavated from the area after residents claim dredged material has been trucked out of the area.
After it was revealed that developers were dredging without standard environmental protocols, Bahamas National Trust Executive Director Eric Carey called on the government to act immediately to hold developers accountable for blatant “abuse of privilege.”
Mr Carey revealed that the BNT was actively considering establishing the area as a protected site.
Last week, the Treasure Cay Property Owners Association (TCPOA) voted to outlaw the construction of dock facilities on Treasure Cay Beach, according to Stephen Kappeler, General Manager of Treasure Cay Resort, Marina and Golf Club.
Mr Kappeler said the TCPOA represents 900 residents, 300 of whom are Bahamian. He added that residents were outraged to discover a dock had been constructed on the beach. It is claimed that the structure will be destroyed in bad weather.
Referring to the dredging site, Mr Cappela said: “There has been no clarity to the residents what this is, a villa, lodge, nobody knows what this is. There has been no public discussion or any information at all, everything is in the dark. You would think that the largest developer and neighbouring residential community that would stand to support the restuarant would be informed, but we’ve never been contacted, we’ve asked for that information, but that’s not happening.”
“This is an historical site, full of bonefish, nurse sharks, snappers, all of this is dug up with no discussion with the people. (Developers) had a false permit placed on the side of the road, it is nothing to do with the dredging. It was actually for the dock they had built on the other side of the road.”
Mr Curry maintained that residents were split over the development, which he said had become heavily politicized.
Yesterday, FNM senator Carl Bethel said: “It falls upon the government to let the Bahamian people know whether or not they have approved this, whether the Minister responsible for Crown land, the Prime Minister, allowed for the area to be despoiled in this way.
“We need to know whether they agreed while it was being done, before it was being done, or after it was done. We need to hear from the Prime Minister,” Mr Bethel said.
Last week, State Minister for Investment Khaalis Rolle refused to comment further on the matter.