By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
A PROMINENT lawyer has called the end of Resorts World Bimini’s (RWB) SuperFast ferry a tragedy, labeling it as proof that the nation’s “selfish leaders can so easily take us down the proverbial garden path.”
Fred Smith, QC, said he is perturbed by RWB’s plans to discontinue its ferry service less than two years after it dredged land previously earmarked for a proposed marine protected area (MPA) in north Bimini to build a cruise port.
Mr Smith, legal consul for two environmental advocacy groups – the Bimini Blue Coalition (BBC) and Save The Bays (STB) – said the residents of Bimini have to feel “immensely emasculated” by the actions of the Christie administration.
However, when contacted for comment, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said the government was not surprised by the announcement.
He said the resort had previously notified his ministry of its plans to halt its ferry service with the aim of introducing a more time-efficient service in the coming months.
According to Mr Wilchcombe, concerns raised over the resort’s plans can be viewed as premature, insisting that RWB has continued to operate in the best interest of the island of Bimini.
“That is why even greater emphasis will be placed on new airlift. In fact the runway is being further lengthened to accommodate larger airlines,” he said.
“The decision was predicated along the lines of cost and weather conditions that caused many cancellations. Resorts World says a smaller vessel will be better in such circumstances.”
“The projections augur well for the increase of arrivals and the occupation of rooms on the island. Bimini is among the islands of the Bahamas headed in the right direction toward self-sustainability. Year round and increased employment are unprecedented. As in any development, there is never perfection,” he said.
Mr Wilchcombe contended that the resort and the government are of one accord moving forward; adding that the use of the docking space for tourism and business opportunities will continue.
Meanwhile, Mr Smith said the residents of Bimini sacrificed their society, culture, local economy, marine and land environment as the government promised significant economic benefits to the country from the resort.
“(The country) got pennies for that land that will now be leveraged into hundreds of millions of dollars in land sales on hotels, homes and condo sales, time-sharing, cruise dock fees, stamp tax and real property tax,” he said.
“Genting’s Resorts World Bimini supposedly built this terminal to aid in the sale of million dollar townhouses to unsuspecting second home owners. They dug up the highly valuable nursery area of the North Sound and in the same manner acquired tons of cheap fill. They got tons, cubic football fields full of cheap fill while destroying priceless reefs. Yet, Alice Town got no infrastructural improvements, no education, no vocational training schools, no opportunities in the cruise ship industry. They got nothing.”
“All of that given up for a ferry that no longer operates,” he added.
Mr Smith said the Bahamas has been littered with anchor projects that never live up to their hype.
“This is the epitome of insanity,” he added. “Politicians never seem to learn their lesson - just like in Baha Mar.”
Last Friday, RWB announced that it would end its SuperFast ferry service this week as a part of a new multi-tiered “improved transportation initiative.”
The new ‘Break for Bimini’ initiative will reintroduce daily, non-stop commercial air services from mainland Florida to Bimini, in addition to incorporating a jetty recently completed by the resort.