By Morgan Adderley
Tribune Staff Reporter
DISNEY Cruise Lines has made a presentation to the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) regarding the company’s proposal to develop a destination at Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera.
This comes as activist groups, including reEarth and Bahamas National Trust, have increased calls for the government to protect Lighthouse Point from commercial development.
The meeting took place on Friday at Disney’s request, with Disney Cruise Line president Jeff Vahle in attendance. Discussions included the project’s proposed development and design, its economic and environmental impact on South Eleuthera, conservation objectives and public access.
BCCEC chief executive Edison Sumner confirmed the meeting to The Tribune yesterday, adding additional meetings with other stakeholders, including Bahamas National Trust and One Eleuthera Foundation, will be held in the near future.
Lighthouse Point is a privately owned 700-acre peninsula at the southern tip of Eleuthera. Its proposed sale has been the subject of much controversy in recent weeks.
Environmentalists have been outspoken in their disagreement with the matter. During a press conference held on Friday, they called for the entire property to be protected from commercial development.
On Friday, the BCCEC released a statement regarding the meeting.
“At Disney’s request, (the BCCEC) briefly met with Disney executives today (Friday) to receive a presentation regarding Disney’s proposed expansion in the Bahamas, namely a second managed destination at Lighthouse Point at the southern tip of Eleuthera,” it noted.
In addition to Mr Vahle, Disney Cruise Lines Vice President of Animals, Science and Environment Mark R Penning and Vice President of Public Affairs Kim Prunty were in attendance.
According to the statement, they presented Chamber directors with a preliminary overview of the company’s intentions.
“The meeting included discussions on the project’s design and development, the economic and environmental impact on South Eleuthera, public access, and conservation objectives,” the BCCEC noted.
The Chamber hopes to engage in “further dialogue” with Disney and other stakeholders in the Bahamas, “to learn more about their perspectives regarding Disney’s proposal for Lighthouse Point and welcomes requests for discussion,” the statement concluded.
Mr Sumner told The Tribune these other stakeholders include the BNT and One Eleuthera Foundation. He added no dates have been set for the meetings as yet, but the Chamber expects them to be held “over the next couple of weeks”.
“It is important for us to hear all sides of the divide on this project, including the government,” Mr Sumner said.
“Since we have heard from Disney, then it is only reasonable for us to hear the others as well.”
In a statement released yesterday, BNT Deputy President Geoff Andrews said the organisation had also met with Disney.
“We recently met with Disney representatives, and while we appreciate the update they provided us regarding their plans, we at the BNT feel strongly that the best use of the Lighthouse Point area is as a national park – for all Bahamians, visitors and future generations to enjoy,” Mr Andrews said.
The BNT also described Lighthouse Point as “perhaps the most significant undeveloped area left on the island.”
Standing with residents and non-governmental organisations alike, the BNT said is it “(imploring) the government not to allow the modification of this area from its pristine condition to a mega cruise ship pier and private beach facility.”
On Thursday, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said although the property is privately owned, the government will not sanction the commercial development of the actual lighthouse site or the surrounding beach.
However, he said the debate is continuing as to whether the entire property will be deemed “off-limits” for commercial development or if the government will allow a portion of it to be developed.
During Friday’s press conference, representatives from the BNT, reEarth, and Waterkeepers Bahamas responded to Mr D’Aguilar’s comments.
Eric Carey, BNT executive director, said while he commends the minister’s statement, the property “is larger than just some tiny little space” and the whole area should instead be preserved for more sustainable development and sustainable long-term jobs.
Mr Carey added environmentalists “do not accept” the idea that a cruise ship port could “co-exist” with what they are proposing.
“We don’t think that any type of unsustainable development, which is what the cruise ship concept is, is acceptable at the peninsula of the southern tip of Eleuthera,” Mr Carey said on Friday.
“And we’re encouraging government to reject the sale to any entity that does not guarantee…sustainable development.”
Mr Carey said sustainable alternatives for the site development include a research facility, small eco-lodge, and a national park component. The jobs provided by these initiatives could rival the numbers of those provided by a cruise ship port, he added.
“(The cruise line is) saying they can produce 100 jobs, 120 jobs. We know that that site directly could produce 120 jobs,” Mr Carey said.
Sam Duncombe, of reEarth Bahamas, suggested Disney share the existing port at Princess Cays, Eleuthera. Princess Cays is owned by Princess Cruises.
Mrs Duncombe also called for the country to invest in more diverse development models.
“While we understand that the Bahamas has basically followed one mode of development for the past 50 years – foreign direct investment, it often comes with the high price of lack of transparency, degraded communities and environments,” she said.
“We cannot stress enough that a cruise port that decimates the environment, restricts access, and has a one-sided economic benefit, for the cruise ship company, is no longer a business model which benefits or sustains the Bahamian people or our fragile environment.”
Mrs Duncombe added the environmental organisation Mission Blue has added Lighthouse Point as one of its “hope spots.” These are “special places that are critical to the health of the ocean — Earth’s blue heart,” Mrs Duncombe said.
She said local organisations which support the Saving Lighthouse Point movement include the BNT, reEarth, Save the Bays, Waterkeepers Bahamas, Bannerman Town, Millars, John Millars, Eleuthera Association, Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation, Earthcare, and Raising Awareness about the Bahamas Landfill.