By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government yesterday denied that it fast-tracked approvals for a North Abaco hotel and fishing lodge after developers began dredging without environmental permits.
The debacle has sparked outrage from island residents, who feel slighted over their lack of awareness of government-sanctioned projects taking place in their community.
State minister for Investments Khaalis Rolle confirmed yesterday that a cease and desist order has been issued to the Sand Bar Club and Spa Ltd.
The developers will now seek approval from the BEST commission to develop its fishing lodge, which features a mini pier; a four-slip dock; and two tennis courts.
Mr Rolle said: “The government did not fast track anything, they were given approval for investment subject to the approval of all of the relevant agencies which includes the BEST commission. They were issued with a cease and desist order.
“Every development,” he said, “is approved from the investment perspective and then the developer has to go through all the other relevant agencies.”
“We are looking into it.”
Despite the government order to stop development, residents remain unconvinced that activity has been halted at the site, according to Steve Pedican, Treasure Cay town committee member and former chief councillor.
“What is happening,” said Mr Pedican said, “is the resort has hired a barge to do some dredging in an area we call the marls of the mangroves, it’s a bonefish area that is frequented by residents and locals. There is 3,000 ft of dredging that they claim they need, but as far as we know they have no permits. This started roughly two weeks ago when everyone started calling around trying to find out what’s going on, we knew (developers) were asking approval for the lodge and dredging, but no one knew about any reports.”
Mr Pedican added that nearby areas were prone to flooding.
He said: “Generally we don’t like it, we don’t know what impact it’s going to have. We feel slighted, the least you can do is inform local government, who can inform the people through town meetings. Let people know that all is well, that the positive outweighs the negative.”
According to a letter from the Bahamas Investment Authority, dated May 27, the Sand Bar Club was granted approval by the National Economic Council to develop a two-storey 12-suite hotel with related facilities on the eastern beach front; and to receive concessions pursuant to the Hotels Encouragement Act.
It continued: “Approved the application by the Sand Bar Club and Spa Ltd to develop a Fishing Lodge with a mini pier; a 4-slip dock; picnic area; two tennis courts; two car parks; green areas; a yoga hut; nature trails and exercise tract on the western portion of the privately owned 9.2 acre property, subject to the submission of an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) to the Ministry of the Environment and the BEST Commission, approval by the BEST Commission for dredging and approval of the license relative to land reclamation by the Prime Minister.”
Approval was also given for the Sand Bar Club to enter into a License Agreement for 28,855 square feet of Crown Land.
Sand Bar Club was denied its application to purchase and operate two luxury vehicles; and its application for customs duty exemption on two luxury vehicles and a refrigerated van.
Calls placed to the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission were directed to the Bahamas Investment Authority, which was said to be the only agency with authority to speak on the development.
“It seems like Nassau is making decisions and not informing local government,” Mr Pedican said. “It makes [local government] look stupid, people didn’t vote for you to not know, you’re supposed to know.”
“That’s our major concern,” he continued, “and I suppose the residents of Bimini have similar concerns. We don’t want these things just happening. In its haste to provide jobs, (government) are not even checking for the people that the area affects, they’re just doing what they want to do and we have a problem with that. It’s not that we want to stop progress, but we need to be reassured that we know what the pros and cons are with all this development.”