By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas has sacrificed Bimini’s “world renowned dive sites” and coral reefs for nothing as a result of Resorts World’s decision to cease its ‘SuperFast’ cruise ship service, an outspoken QC said yesterday.
Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner, told Tribune Business that the resort developer’s decision to end its cruise service from Miami, effective as of yesterday, confirmed environmentalists’ worst fears.
Recalling his own warning during Judicial Review proceedings that the Bimini ‘SuperFast’ “could not work” and was likely to be abandoned, Mr Smith said the episode reinforced “the continued tragedy of these Heads of Agreements and ‘anchor projects’.”
The Save the Bays legal director argued that the seabed dredging to facilitate Resorts World’s cruise ship service, which had negatively impacted Bimini’s existing dive tourism business and marine environment, had benefited a foreign developer at the expense of the Bahamian people.
“Save the Bays and the Bimini Blue Coalition are dreadfully sorry for the people of Bimini,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.
“They have been the unfortunate victims of short-sighted politicians who can’t see further than the tips of their noses, and who are constantly outsmarted on business deals by foreign developers.
“I said the fast ferry could not work; that it was an environmental catastrophe; that it was a repeat of the destruction of the cultural, social and environmental heritage on Bimini.”
Mr Smith said the Bimini ‘Superfast’ situation was a repeat of what had occurred at Great Guana Cay and Freeport Harbour with Disney Cruise lines.
In the latter situation, he disclosed that the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) invested $17 million in renovating the harbour as a dedicated private port for Disney, only for the cruise line to abandon the project - as it did on Great Guana Cay.
Mr Smith also recalled that the ‘Big Red Boat’ walked away after the GBPA closed off and refurbished Obera Beach for it, and said: “The Bahamas is littered, like anchor projects, with the rotting carcasses of these dedicated cruise ship facilities.
“In the Judicial Review [over Resorts World’s dredging], I said the same thing that happened at Guana Cay and Freeport Harbour with Disney Cruises would happen here. We said the Bimini SuperFast was just temporary.
“As soon as the developer does not need it any more, they will close it down with the loss and detriment to the environment.”
Explaining the Bimini ‘SuperFast’s’ cancellation, Resorts World said it was effectively being replaced by new commercial airline services that would transport guests to the island more quickly and efficiently.
Daily commercial services via Cape Air, Silver Airways and a luxury flight offered by the developer will bring nearly 500 guests to Bimini on a weekly basis.
The replacement of the three-hour cruise service with 20-minute flights was, Resorts World said, timed to coincide with the opening of its 305-room Hilton branded hotel.
The developer said it would soon replace the SuperFast with a more efficient ferry operation, and was “committed to continuing to provide ferry service for guests wishing to enjoy the trip via sea.”
While the proposed ferry service will dock at the same 1,000 foot pier and man-made island used by the SuperFast, it is unclear whether dredging would have been required to accommodate it.
The Bimini ‘Superfast’ service was launched in mid-2013, meaning that in return for permitting the controversial dredging activities to facilitate it, the Bahamas received just two-and-a-half years worth of guests.
Mr Smith yesterday described the Government’s Heads of Agreement deals with foreign developers, and the so-called ‘anchor project’ strategy, as “anathema to good governance” in the Bahamas.
Demanding that the Christie administration revise its development model, the outspoken QC also urged it to retain the existing Planning and Subdivisions Act and the requirement for every Family Island to have an approved development plan.
“This demonstrates the continued tragedy of these Heads of Agreement and anchor projects,” Mr Smith said of the latest developments in Bimini, “which are embarked upon in secret, done in a rush and are not properly regulated.
“We keep selling out the Bahamas with these Heads of Agreement and anchor projects, started by the FNM and taken to stellar heights by the PLP.
“Heads of Agreement and ‘anchor projects’ are anathema to good governance in the Bahamas and should be stopped.”
Mr Smith questioned whether the dredging’s main aim had been to generate thousands of cubic yards of fill, which could then be used by Resorts World for land reclamation and expansion worth millions of dollars.
He added that while this could potentially generate huge profits for the developer, little benefit would accrue to the Bahamian taxpayer and Public Treasury as a result of the numerous tax and Crown Land concessions provided to Resorts World.
The Bimini Blue Coalition’s Judicial Review raised concerns that the Government had failed to follow its own permitting processes in approving the Resorts World dredging.
“This is why we need to keep the Planning and Subdivisions Act, and the executive needs to do what Parliament told them to do, and create a development plan for every Family Island, so that any development would fit in and help these island to grow,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.
“To put things in perspective, Resorts World promised to bring hundreds of thousands of people to Alice Town, which has a population of not much more than 2,000 Bahamians.
“Yet our Government was not able to ensure compliance with the Planning and Subdivisions Act, Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape Act, and the Building Regulations Act.
“We need to ensure development is regulated, proportionate and planned, and we don’t simply rush to the destruction of Family Island cultures, and the marine and terrestrial environment, just because someone is dangling thousands of dollars in front of a politician’s nose.”
Mr Smith added that major investment projects should be tied to enhancing an island’s infrastructure needs, including those of its workforce and social services.