The resolution to a 10-year dispute over Long Island’s one-time largest employer presents “a wonderful opportunity” to revive the island’s economy, its MP yesterday describing the surrounding area as “ghost town”.
Loretta Butler-Turner said she received “the best news I’ve had in a very long time” when she opened yesterday’s Tribune Business to discover that the Privy Council had effectively ended the dispute that had ‘paralysed’ development of the 25,000-acre Diamond Crystal Salt property.
Suggesting that “the possibilities are endless” for the site, Mrs Butler-Turner said she would discuss potential development options with Long Island’s realtors and business community when she returns to her constituency on Friday,
She disclosed to Tribune Business that the Chinese ambassador recently accompanied her to Long Island to assess potential investment opportunities, but she did not take him to the Diamond Crystal property for fear it was still tied up in the long-running court battle.
This newspaper revealed yesterday how businessman Peter Hall’s final legal battle ended in failure, after the London-based Privy Council ruled that his $11.5 million bid to purchase the Diamond Crystal property could not be consummated because there was never “an enforceable sales contract” with vendor, Maritek Bahamas.
However, the court proceedings, which have been live since 2005 as they made their way through the Bahamian judicial system, frustrated any efforts at developing a property that covers 20 miles of Long Island’s most pristine coastline.
“I can tell you that that has been a very big issue for us,:” Mrs Butler-Turner said of the Diamond Crystal battle, “because the southern part of Long Island south of Clarence Town has pretty much been a ghost town apart from second home owners and Ellis Major’s development.
“The Diamond Crystal property is a huge amount of acreage, and the best coastline. It [the ruling] could certainly open up opportunities for realtors to look at that. When I read the story in the paper, I said: ‘Finally, something may happen there’. It’s badly needed.”
Much, though, may depend on Maritek Bahamas’ intentions, and whether it will attempt to develop the property itself, or as a joint venture with third parties, or seek to sell all or part of it.
If it opts for a sale, successful development will hinge on the investor(s) who acquire it, and their plans.
“I had the Chinese ambassador down there a few weeks ago, and had that [ruling] happened prior to that trip, I would have taken him there,” Mrs Butler-Turner told Tribune Business.
“Now, we can take a second look. I think it’s great news for Long Island. The property is magnificent. This is great news for us, and I’ll do all on my part to speak to the business community and see what we do moving forward.”
Mrs Butler-Turner said Long Islanders, and their business community, would likely have to find investors and partners willing to develop the former Diamond Crystal property on their own, rather than rely on the Government.
Describing Long Island as “a self-help island”, she added that it had “not been the recipient of any major initiative” by the Government.
The MP described Nassau as “very stingy” in terms of budgetary allocations for the island, adding that the “biggest challenge” for its inhabitants was a lack of key infrastructure - particularly airlift and a reverse osmosis plant/piped water in the south.
“Long Island does not want anything that resembles the anchor projects the Prime Minister has been promoting,” Mrs Butler-Turner said of her vision for the Diamond Crystal property.
“We’d prefer low impact, eco-sensitive type investments.... I think the possibilities are endless.”
She suggested boutique hotels and bonefishing lodges as possible development options, given “the incredible beaches” in the area. Second homes, too, were another possibility, as was restarting salt harvesting and dividing the 25,000 acres up to facilitate numerous developments.
“We’re going to see where this leads, and hopefully it leads in the right direction,” Mrs Butler-Turner said. “We’re going to gave to go out there and see if we can bring in investors ourselves. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
The 25,000 acres in question were once the main driver of Long Island’s economy, providing the biggest source of employment on the island. Diamond Crystal opened its plant in the 1970s and, after it closed due to its US parent filing for bankruptcy, it was taken over by World Wide Protein (Bahamas), a shrimp farming company.
That venture, too, failed with the shrimp farming closing after several years of operations in the mid-1980s. World Wide Protein is understood to be the predecessor to Maritek Bahamas.
The dispute between Mr Hall and Maritek was arguably yet another example where large, prime tracts of valuable Bahamian real estate seemingly become bogged down in never-ending fights involving overseas investors, depriving this nation and its people of its potential use and economic benefit.