By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
A NEW cruise port in East Grand Bahama will be constructed on the north shore west of Stat Oil in an area that has been determined to suffer the least devastating environmental effects.
While speaking at the Grand Bahama Business Outlook in Freeport this week, Prime Minister Perry Christie revealed that the cruise port will take two years to build and will significantly benefit the island.
“We shall shortly conclude a Head of Agreement with Carnival. We have finished our end for some time now for a major cruise port in East Grand Bahama,” he said on Thursday.
While an exact location was not disclosed, Minister for Grand Bahama Dr Michael Darville shared some details of a site two and a half miles west of Stat Oil on the north shore.
“The exact location I cannot give … but it is an excellent piece of land and it was selected because of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). It was proven it would have the least devastating effects to the water aquifers in East Grand Bahama, which is essential for water supply for the entire island of Grand Bahama,” he said.
The $200m cruise port was given the green light by the National Economic Council for conclusion of a heads of agreement after lengthy negotiations between the government and Carnival Cruise Lines.
Environmental groups have raised concerns about a cruise port being built in East Grand Bahama, citing the area as “one of the most fragile and important ecological wonders of the Bahamas”.
Prime Minister Christie assured that, in their talks with Carnival Cruise Line, government discussed at length the environment of Grand Bahama. “We don’t make any decision with respect of a development that has the potential impact on the environment without making it subject to environmental approval,” he explained when asked about consultation regarding the EIA.
“After an EIA is done and assuming it is satisfactory, then we make it also subject to Environmental Management Planning,” he said. “And so, in the process in talking to Carnival Cruise Line we discussed at length the environment of GB.”
The Prime Minister said government has negotiated that concessions with the cruise company would be for Bahamians in terms of entrepreneurial opportunities. “We are so close to doing some big things in GB. I hope most of it can happen before the election. But in our country, it will continue regardless to who wins after the election. And you have a stake in ensuring that progress is not delayed by foolish political decisions. And if those things come about, we are talking about a new Freeport and a new Grand Bahama,” said Mr Christie.
David Jones, the Grand Bahama Taxi Union president, told the Prime Minister that the common man and ordinary Bahamians like taxi drivers benefit very little when new developments come to the island. He reminded Mr Christie of a promise that he made publicly in Grand Bahama in December, 2015, concerning a 50-50 arrangement between taxi drivers and tour operators concerning movement of cruise passengers on the Grand Celebration, which has still not happened.
Mr Jones said: “I paid $150 today just to talk to my Prime Minister and to come here (at the Business Outlook). The ordinary man can’t do that. You made a statement publicly that the business was not just for tour operators and it would be shared 50-50. That is not happening and I ask you to look into the matter because we feel that what is happening is totally unfair,” he said.
Taxi drivers move only 400 of the 1,500 Grand Celebration passengers that come to Freeport. Mr Jones indicated that bigger buses are coming in and taking business away from cab drivers. The laws governing the transporting of passengers at the harbour are not being adhered to, stressed Mr Jones. He also felt that tax exemptions by the government should have been granted to taxi drivers and small businesses following the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew in Grand Bahama.
Mr Christie said that he is “sympathetic” to the taxi drivers. “If there is something the taxi drivers deserves; if there is one person who would listen to you it is me because I come out of a taxi driver home. It is a role my family played and I am sympathetic and even sometimes partial.
“So, if the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Grand Bahama are not giving you satisfaction, before you say anything, I expect you to find your way to my office because you want progress, and I would like for you to have progress. And I say that to all unions, if you think there is something we have not done,” he said.
In response to concerns about the 50-50 arrangement, Mr Christie said, “Obviously, I have to be brought up to date on progress of what you are concerned about. I have a listening ear for you because in my father’s time as a taxi driver you were able to make a living, and he was able to have his children go to college and university. I do understand that you have a livelihood you like to protect, and so, we need to have a conversation … to bring a resolution to that.”