By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Resorts World’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) admits that Bimini’s existing dive tourism model is potentially being placed “at risk for nothing”, a leading environmental attorney warned yesterday.
Romauld Ferreira likened both the developer’s and the Government’s determination to proceed with the $10-$15 million terminal/jetty project to “madness”, given that their own EIA conceded that the sustainability of Resorts World’s Miami cruise ship service was questionable.
Fresh from studying the EIA, Mr Ferreira said the document revealed that dredging necessary to create the 4.5 acre cruise terminal island would impact 25 acres of seabed - an area that contained most of Bimini’s prime dive sites.
Describing the process followed by Resorts World and the Christie administration as “ass backwards”, Mr Ferreira added that the admissions contained in the EIA showed why the Government and its agencies had adopted such a “fortress mentality” to transparency and public consultation.
He told Tribune Business that the developer’s own EIA, which it had paid for, showed the Resorts World/Bimini Bay expansion project was both “overdevelopment” and “unsustainable”.
Of particular interest to Mr Ferreira was the EIA’s admission as to how much seabed would be affected by the dredging of 220,000 cubic yards of fill, which will be used to create the 4.5 acre island where Resorts World’s cruise ship will dock.
“The dredging and the construction of the new island will result in irreversible loss of the existing macro algae and sponges mainly, as well as a small number of corals living on the seabed where dredging is to take place and land is to be reclaimed,” the EIA states.
“The area that will be directly affected is more than 25 acres, approximately 17 acres of which is consistent hard bottom, 4.8 acres patchy hard bottom and 2.8 acres sand.”
In response, Mr Ferreira added: “Obviously, that is going to interrupt and impact the dive sites. One is just 700 feet away.
“This brings up a very startling issue. Fine, you have a 4.5 acre island, but this is going to put far more of the dive sites at risk. It’s a large area.”
The EIA itself concedes that 14 known dive spots, or almost 70 per cent of Bimini’s favourite underwater locations, are situated within 1.5 miles of the proposed cruise ship terminal and jetty. The closest, it adds, are 700 feet and 1,500 feet, respectively, from the construction zone.
The sites include the Atlantis Road and Three Sisters Rocks, and the EIA concedes: “Diving and snorkelling in Bimini is very popular, and as such a major reason for many tourists to visit Bimini…. This area is of high importance to the diving industry.”
Arguing that Bimini was “doing well” now and was the ‘number four’ island for tourism, Mr Ferreira told Tribune Business that its successful dive and fishing-based tourism model were effectively being placed at risk in order to rescue the Bimini Bay project and its survival.
“When you take all that in its totality, this development could impact Bimini to such an extent that people currently coming to the island may no longer want to come.
“And you’re doing it for project [Bimini Bay] runs as low as 10 per cent. It seems like madness; you’re destroying something that exists already, and are not trying to make it [Bimini Bay] fit in.”
Mr Ferreira said the developer’s EIA also admitted that the success of the Miami cruise ship service was unproven, casting doubt over its long-term success and sustainability.
It described the projected 11-fold increase in annual visitors to Bimini, taking the total to 570,000 as “questionable”, and warned that “many ship services in the past and present” between Florida and the Bahamas had resulted in failure.
“I can understand why they [the Government and Resorts World] had a fortress mentality,” Mr Ferreira told Tribune Business, “with the ferry terminal impacting the natural environment and putting Bimini’s tourism product at risk for nothing.
“If, at the end of the day, it collapses, it’s unsustainable, all this will have been for nothing. You’d have destroyed a viable tourist industry.”
He added that Resorts World was also failing to follow the advice of its own EIA, namely to conduct an analysis of whether there would be sufficient demand for the service prior to building the cruise terminal/jetty.
“They are ignoring the advice of their own EIA, which says you need to do this prior to construction,” Mr Ferreira told Tribune Business.
“If your intent is to have minimal impact on the environment, which is honourable and noble, and you turn around and ignore the recommendations of the document you produced, it doesn’t seem logical to me. It really doesn’t. It’s cause for concern.”
Summing up his conclusions on the EIA, the well-known environmental attorney said: “I think this shows it’s overdevelopment, and that a massive development is being imposed on the community.
“It begs the question as to why it’s not being scaled back. Why go ahead with a project where the developer’s own study gives these admissions? Why are we doing it?”
The EIA, he added, conceded that the loss of coral and impact from water turbidity was expected to be “high”, while the increased tourist population’s demand “might deplete fishing stocks to dangerous levels”.
“It’s unsustainable,” Mr Ferreira said. “Yet they’re going ahead with it. It’s almost as if they know something we don’t.
“It exceeds the ‘carrying capacity’ of Bimini. Why go ahead with something that exceeds that carrying capacity? Why go ahead with a project that’s totally unsustainable?”
Recalling how he returned to the Bahamas in 1990 with his ecology degree, Mr Ferreira said this nation had made little progress in 23 years when it came to dealing with issues of overdevelopment and unsustainable development, plus following the correct processes and protocols.
“After 23 years of doing this, I look at the progress and see how far we have come,” Mr Ferreira said. “The biggest progress is the Planning and Subdivisions Act, which is not environmental protection.
“The reason why we have made no progress is that we’ve been talking to the same people for the past 23 years.”
Noting that both Prime Ministers Ingraham and Christie had once held Cabinet posts under the late Sir Lynden Pindling’s government, Mr Ferreira added: “It looks like change will only come when they go, along with that mode of thinking. It’s that mode of thinking that has us. It’s almost as if I’ve been hitting my head against a wall for a long amount of time.
“I don’t know what to say about this one. It’s going to end up in court. The instructions for Judicial Review have already been issued.”