By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The manufacturing facility for a proposed $50 million aragonite mining project will be located on Grand Bahama outside the Port area, a spokesperson yesterday saying it was unclear whether Wednesday night’s Town Meeting was truly representative of local community opinion on the project.
Katherine Smith, the former FNM Senator and Atlanta consul-general who is acting as spokesperson for Nassau Island Development Company, said the firm was now awaiting a formal government response on how it should proceed with conducting its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
She added that the company had submitted its first documents to the Government two weeks ago, and Wednesday’s Town Meeting was designed to show the company’s transparency with regard to its plans.
Tribune Business sources said most persons speaking at the meeting voiced their opposition to the Nassau Island Development Company project, especially fishermen who felt its location - at Great Bursus Cay - would impact the area’s main fishing ground and their livelihood source.
K P Turnquest, the FNM MP for eastern Grand Bahama, expressed his unhappiness that 30-50 persons, who have no connection to the constituency, and appeared to include Urban Renewal workers, had been bussed in to attend it.
Among those attending the meeting, apart from Mr Turnquest, Senator Tanisha Tynes and former MP Ken Russell, was Michelle Reckley, the Government-appointed head of Urban Renewal in Freeport.
Mr Turnquest said his understanding was that the meeting was called to inform east Grand Bahama residents, who would be most affected, about the project and its likely impact.
“I couldn’t understand why they would load up the room with people who have no interest in the discussion,” Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business. “They were called and asked if they would come to the meeting. Somebody provided the bus.”
Emphasising that he was not accusing the developers of providing the bus service, and being responsible for their presence, Mr Turnquest said some had come from communities such as Eight Mile Rick, and added: “I couldn’t understand why they were there.”
Summing up the meeting, the MP added: “It’s incumbent on the developer to do the EIA and the rest of the work, and prove that what they’re going to do is not going to destroy the livelihoods of people in the area..... They can’t come to us with a blank cheque. They can’t get to second base without first base.”
Mr Turnquest also called on Nassau Island Development Company to ensure that if the project did proceed it would have a training programme in place for east Grand Bahamians, and not have to import labour.
Ms Smith, meanwhile, said the developers “don’t know yet” whether the opinions voiced at the Town Meeting were representative of the local community. Apart from four fishermen, she said the others who spoke were Fred Smith QC and Joseph Darville of Save the Bays, and persons with “different interests”.
She added that Geoff Moxey of Phoenix Engineering, who has been hired to conduct Nassau Island Development Company’s EIA, had already completed “scoping” work at Bursus Cay.
A report on this had been sent to the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission (BEST), detailing the company’’s harvesting, dredging and construction works scope.
Ms Smith said Nassau Island Development Company was now waiting for BEST to respond to it and set out the parameters/framework for how the EIA is to be conducted.
Emphasising that the developers could not proceed without this, she told Tribune Business: “We’re awaiting a response from BEST to the scoping report. It doesn’t make sense for you to go out and do an EIA until BEST says this is what we want.
“We’re waiting on them to tell us, on the basis of the scoping report, what’s next.”
Emphasising that Nassau Island Development Company could mobilise within 90 days of receiving all necessary government approvals, Ms Smith corrected previous newspaper reports suggesting up to 800 jobs - 500 full-time, 300 construction - could be created.
While 300 construction jobs would be created at peak, this level would likely be trimmed by 50 per cent once the harvesting section would be completed, and full-time jobs will total 10-200.
Suggesting that Nassau Island Development Company’s total investment would likely be more than the previously announced $50 million, Ms Smith said the project offered the potential to diversify the economy, create new sources of foreign exchange, and boost entrepreneurship.
Apart from exporting aragonite, the developer also intends to use it to manufacture products at its own factory, and supply other Bahamas-based manufacturers wanting it.
“The owner of the company wants to locate it [the manufacturing plant] in east or west Grand Bahama, “ Ms Smith said.
Asked why Nassau Island Development Company was not seeking the incentives offered in the Port area, she replied: “We would expect we would have the Industries Encouragement Act, and get some concessions there.”
Apart from tropical play sand, Ms Smith said aragonite was used in agriculture and animal feed, and there were also possible applications for fisheries projects and conch farms.
Nassau Island Development Company believes the Bahamas is the only country in the world that produces high quality oolitc aragonite in commercial volumes, and its studies suggest Bursus Cay has “an infinite amount”.
“From what our studies have said to us, this is a continually regenerating and replenishing product, and that area can never be over-harvested,” Ms Smith told Tribune Business.