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No 'Empowerment For Jobs' Trade-Off On $50m Aragonite Plan

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

East Grand Bahama’s MP yesterday said he would have “difficulty” with a proposed $50 million aragonite mining project if it forced his constituents to trade their self-empowered lifestyle for jobs, given its potential impact on the area’s main fisheries source.

K P Turnquest, confirming there was widespread opposition in east Grand Bahama to the project proposed by Nassau Island Development Company, said any disruption to Bursus Cay’s marine life would “cause us great concern”.

He added that, if the project were to ultimately get the Government’s ‘go ahead’, he would “insist” that a trust fund be established to act as a safety net in the event the aragonite venture “goes wrong”.

And Mr Turnquest disclosed to Tribune Business that Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment, had confirmed to him the Government was aware of east Grand Bahama’s opposition to the aragonite mining/manufacturing plan.

The Minister, according to Mr Turnquest, promised that Nassau Island Development Company would only receive the Government’s blessing once it received local community support - something he pledged to “hold him to”.

Speaking ahead of last night’s Town Meeting, during which the developer was due to present plans billed as creating 500 permanent jobs, Mr Turnquest confirmed that the constituency’s “initial position” was to oppose the proposal.

“People in the area only live for fishing, and that [Bursus Cay] is the main, primary fishing ground,” Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business.

“Anything that is going to disrupt the marine life in that area is going to cause us great concern.”

The MP said he would be “very interested” to see an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and associated studies for the aragonite mining/manufacturing project, but Tribune Business understands that no full EIA has been completed.

“An additional point is this is a way of life for these people,” Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business of his constituency’s fishing-dependent economy.

“They are their own bosses, are self-employed, are entrepreneurs, and if we’re asking them to give up their way of life for the promise of a job, I have a bit of difficulty with that.”

Suggesting that ‘safeguards’ be attached to any approvals, the MP added: “I would insist there is some trust fund set up for the development of the community, to assist and sustain it.

“It will ensure that if anything goes wrong, there ‘s something to provide for the community. It can’t be that they [the developer] just come in and go. There must be some protection.

“I can’t ignore the possibility of them coming in, destroying people’s livelihoods and saying ‘Oops’ if something happens. We know what we have; we don’t know what we’re going to get.”

Acknowledging that his constituency, and Grand Bahama and the nation as a whole, desperately needed the creation of more jobs, Mr Turnquest said the aragonite project was creating a classic dilemma that has reared its head multiple times in the Bahamas: development/economic growth versus environmental protection.

“We’re not going to let them take a short cut; they’re going to have to do the work,” Mr Turnquest said of Nassau Island Development Company and the Government.

“We do need jobs. The fact of the matter is there is an unemployment issue, particularly among women, but do we want to trade jobs for a lifestyle and empowerment.

“We do need jobs and development in east Grand Bahama. But if it’s not sustainable, not empowering and disturbs a way of life, we’re going to have some issues.”

Tribune Business first revealed the Bursus Cay mining plans, and the extent of the opposition to them, last December.

This newspaper knew at the time that the project’s proponents were Mr Ferguson and Nassau Island Development Company, but chose then not to name them because they could not be reached for comment.

The location targeted by Nassau Island Development Company lies just outside a Marine Protected Area (MPA), and a Town Meeting held in eastern Grand Bahama by the National Trust earlier this year called for this to be extended to include Bursus Cay.

The main economic attraction of Nassau Island Development Company’s plans, apart from the 800 jobs (300 in construction) it is promising to create, are the export (foreign currency earnings) and tax revenue potential from its mining/manufacturing operations.

Mr Turnquest yesterday suggested that the Town Meeting called by Nassau Island Development Company for last night was to “counter” the previous National Trust meeting. He agreed that residents had not been given enough notice of the meeting, describing this as “unfortunate”.

“We’ll find out what Nassau Island Development Company has to say, and see how these two activities [aragonite mining and fishing] can co-exist,” he added.

“Obviously, we can’t do one to disenfranchise the other.”

With no government approvals in place, the MP said he anticipated the company would only be able to outline its plans and how it was going to conduct its environmental studies.

He acknowledged Nassau Island Development Company’s assertion that the way it planned to mine the aragonite would not harm the environment, and its belief that the project is sustainable.

Tribune Business sources said representatives from the Save the Bays environmental group, plus the Bahamas National Trust and The Nature Conservancy, will be at tonight’s meeting.

“They definitely do not want this,” one source said of east Grand Bahama’s attitude to the $50 million project.

Tribune Business revealed last year how Paul R. Vahldiek Jnr, co-owner of Deep Water Cay (DWC), which has been the subject of a $30 million investment, had warned that this outlay was “threatened” by the Bursus Cay plans.

“We were very shocked to hear about a proposed dredging operation in such a pristine and ecologically sensitive and significant marine environment,” he said then.

“Our investment in DWC is threatened by this news and, more importantly, so is the environment and the livelihood of many individuals and companies.”

Omeko Glinton, a professional bonefishing guide at Deep Water Cay for 17 years, added: “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.”

Such sentiments have been countered by ‘anonymous’ letters in support of the project, which have appeared in previous months in the Freeport News.

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