WHEN it comes to analysing the project under way in Harbour Island, it seems to fail the smell test in a number of ways.
Let’s look at it from the start.
First of all, approval is given for a 5.6-acre development. Fine enough, but then the developer acquires an extra 21.4 acres of land and starts advertising a much bigger development, five times the size, without approvals in place for the new scheme.
Second, we have Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis adding some mud to the waters. The Heads of Agreement for this project was done with much fanfare more than a year ago. It came in the wake of the Oban Energies debacle and we were promised that every check had been carried out to avoid a repeat of that mess. In contrast, the expansion was announced with barely a trumpet. That news came in a press release, no loudhailer for the fact the scheme now stretches the whole width of the island. In addition to that, Dr Minnis promised to table the Heads of Agreement the very next time he spoke in the House of Assembly. As of yet, he still hasn’t done so, and Dr Minnis hasn’t explained his reasons. Did you forget, Prime Minister? And why such a difference between the fanfare for the signing and the quiet news of the expansion? Outside of Harbour Island, hardly any Bahamians would have heard of the huge change in the project.
Third, the environmental impact assessment has never been publicly released. That’s almost redundant in some ways now, as it only applies to the earlier, smaller development – no assessment has been done for the larger scheme.
And fourth, the manager of the project, Bernard Ross, is an American given a work permit despite a past conviction for drug crimes and having served 11 months in prison.
At the very least, this series of concerns would be enough to bring a little hesitation. At worst, it might bring to mind the Oban Energies fiasco.
The dismissal of concerns by the head of Harbour Island’s district council, Terrance Davis, doesn’t bring much reassurance, as he says the people complaining are “maybe a few persons that are not directly from the community or involved in the community”.
Even Mr Davis though describes one part of the plan, the construction of a canal, “an environmental disaster”.
Construction has already begun, with work started on a marina, but with so much of the project seemingly yet to be given approval – or even still to seek approval – people are right to be concerned.
Among those speaking out is music star Lenny Kravitz, who posted on social media: “We must respect and preserve Eleuthera and the rest of our islands. When we destroy it, we won’t get a second chance.”
Just this year, the Ministry of Tourism launched an advertising campaign fronted by Lenny Kravitz, hailing his following of more than 40 million on social media and the passion he has for The Bahamas.
Another Harbour Island resident, Ben Simmons, has kept close watch on the project, and says of the switch from a smaller scheme to a much larger one that “at best it’s false advertising. It’s disingenuous and presumptuous”.
The government should act swiftly. The original heads of agreement should be tabled immediately. The first environmental impact assessment should be released to the public – not just to The Tribune because we asked for it - and a timetable set for the completion of a new one, with a pledge to release that as soon as it is done.
If this development goes ahead, it will change the face of Harbour Island – and to do so in darkness immediately raises suspicions. People should be able to see and study what is being proposed, and be given ample time to raise their objections.
If everything is on the level, then there should be nothing to hide. With such a lack of transparency, there is a certain whiff of something wrong. Our noses are twitching. It’s up to government to clear the air.