EDITOR, The Tribune.
Please publish this open letter to the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and copied to the Hon. Peter Turnquest, Finance Minister.
Dear Prime Minister:
Re: Concerns over the proposed Oban oil refinery project in East Grand Bahama
I write to you regarding the above captioned issue as I am absolutely convinced that it is of critical importance to the future well-being of Grand Bahama Island and indeed the wider country as a whole. As you know, our mission in Save The Bays is to fight against the scourge of unregulated development, defend the rule of law and preserve the natural heritage of this country for the benefit of future generations of Bahamians.
We were therefore deeply disturbed to learn that a Heads of Agreement (HOA) for such a project would be signed before an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had been conducted. This represents a flagrant contravention of both the letter and spirit of the Planning and Subdivisions Act, and we therefore regard it as a very serious subversion of the rule of law.
Even more concerning is the content of that HOA, especially the clause in which the government is prevented from backing away from the deal, regardless of the gravity of the environmental consequences which the EIA, once completed, may point to. This amounts to a foreign company holding the people and government of the Bahamas ransom and is totally unacceptable.
In addition, we find it most disheartening that at a time when the rest of the world is looking to move away from a dependence on fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, the Bahamas is seeking to make such a conspicuous move in the opposite direction.
I have known you, Prime Minister, to be an avid enthusiast for solar energy in particular, and so I must say I find it baffling that your administration would consider approving a crude oil facility that even your predecessors – who could never be called friends of the environment – decided to pass over.
Likewise, the gifting of such a huge tract of valuable public land to a foreign entity for a project which will see the vast majority of the profits leave our shores can only be called regressive. The Bahamas needs to move away from this kind of mega-investment model and towards encouraging multiple small scale, locally owned and sustainable initiatives instead.
As a longtime Grand Bahama resident, I understand the urgent need for employment opportunities and very much appreciate the dedication that your government continues to display in seeking a solution to the island’s woes. However, Grand Bahamians have also suffered unimaginably over the years because of unchecked industrial pollution, most recently from another oil processing facility just south of where Oban would seek to locate its operation. I have had the great misfortune of witnessing firsthand the consequences of this, having fought for decades as a school teacher and later principal on behalf of the hundreds of students made ill by toxic chemicals from industrial plants in Grand Bahama.
This story of this shameful tragedy continues to unfold.
Of a single graduating class that I taught in the 1980s, more than 15 have now passed away in circumstances which I am convinced point to the longterm effects of exposure to pollutants.
In all, 30 of my students from the 80s have died and many more have been diagnosed with cancer and other diseases attributed to exposure.
It is fair to assume that at this point, their families will never get justice. Grand Bahamians simply cannot take anymore and I fervently plead with you on their behalf to reconsider this deal before it is too late.
At the end of the day, even if this project delivers on its promises – which considering the unorthodox manner in which it has come about, is far from assured – it would still only amount to a few hundred jobs each year. That is a drop in the bucket for an island where thousands upon thousands are without work. And, were a significant oil spill to take place, the livelihoods of hundreds who live and work in nearby fishing settlements like Sweetings Cay would be wiped out in an instant. Clearly, the possible benefits of this deal come nowhere near justifying the very serious risks.
Meanwhile, Grand Bahama is ideal for the progressive and enlightened development of multiple small and innovative projects in emerging industries like marine and terrestrial ecotourism, which, instead of destroying our precious environment, use it to help the population succeed and thrive while retaining ownership of their land and natural resources. This is the tourism of the future and already generates $77 billion in revenue a year around the world. Likewise, Grand Bahamians could lead the way in developing clean, renewable energy to power the Bahamas. We are a very resourceful people; all we need from our government is a strategic, regulatory and financial helping hand and we can do the rest.
Once again and most respectfully, Prime Minister, I urge and encourage you to make a clean break with the sins of the past; end the tired and broken neo-plantation development model, empower your people and help them find a path towards prosperity that does not sell out our birthright but rather preserves it for the benefit of all Bahamians – those with us now and those to come.
As always, I and my team are available at your convenience to discuss this matter or any other issue pertaining to sustainable development, environmental preservation and the rule of law in The Bahamas.
Chairman, Save The Bays
April 9, 2018