By FARRAH JOHNSON
THE Waterkeeper Alliance has partnered with leading environmental groups in the country to launch a digital campaign in protest of Disney’s plans to construct a cruise ship port in South Eleuthera.
In a press statement yesterday, the organisation announced the launch of StopDisney.com, the focal point of the Last Chance for Lighthouse Point campaign, which seeks to persuade Disney to abandon its “controversial plans” to construct a “massive cruise ship port” in Eleuthera.
The Alliance joins local environmental groups including Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation, EARTHCARE, reEarth, as well as its partners Waterkeepers Bahamas and Save the Bays in protest.
Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, said activists are calling on Disney to find a “more suitable alternative,” so that Lighthouse Point could be preserved for “current and future generations.”
“We are pleased to join with our Bahamian partners to launch this campaign against Disney’s current plans for Lighthouse Point that would degrade a treasured natural site and proposed marine protected area,” he said.
“Disney needs to do more than just rush through a minimal government process in the Bahamas. It needs to seriously consider the environmental, economic, and social costs of this proposed cruise port.”
“On March 7, 2019, the government of the Bahamas secretly signed a heads of agreement (HoA) with Disney Cruise Lines Island Development (DCL), but the full text of the HoA was not released until March 20. The Bahamian environmental groups described the HoA—that sets out the framework for further negotiations and approvals—‘a realisation of our worst environmental, economic, and societal fears,’ the statement read.
“The HoA revealed a project much more massive than anticipated with much less clear economic benefits. The HoA gives DCL rights to secure a 50-year-lease on the seabed to build a $250 million 0.6 mile long pier and onshore entertainment facilities to handle up to 20,000 passengers a week. The groups called upon Disney to prepare a world-class environmental impact assessment (EIA) that includes consideration of alternative sites, economic analyses, and full public consultation.”
Mr Yaggi’s statement said environment groups sent a letter on May 2 to Disney’s chief sustainability officer setting out a list of data, studies, and analyses that would be essential in such an EIA.
“To date, Disney has been dismissive of the groups’ concern and their offer of cooperation,” Mr Yaggi added.
A letter sent to The Tribune by Disney officials shows that Dr Mark Penning, Disney’s vice president of animals, science and environment wrote to local activist Sam Duncombe on June 12 in response to her concerns.
Joe Darville, executive director of Save the Bays, said he finds it “alarming” that Disney is proceeding with “qualifying contractors for construction work,” before the EIA is completed.
“A comprehensive review of the environmental and economic effects of this massive port project must be done before any final decision is made on the future of one of the most majestically beautiful spots left on Earth,” he said.
“We urge Disney to choose a different site for its port and to work with citizen groups on alternatives that would provide sustainable economic benefits for South Eleuthera.”
Ms Duncombe, executive director of reEarth, also said she believes there are “better, more sustainable development options” for South Eleuthera.
“Bahamians are increasingly questioning the benefits of the cruise ship industry to the country after so many failed promises of jobs and economic opportunities,” Ms Duncombe said.
“Cruise ship passengers comprise 75 percent of the tourists visiting the Bahamas, yet they only contribute 10 percent of the annual tourism GDP.”
Phoebe Shaw, Last Chance for Lighthouse Point campaign director, added that this is the “last chance” the public has to save Lighthouse Point.
Describing it as a “special place” for people all over the globe, she insisted that the area as well as its surrounding seas “deserves to be protected for future generations.”
Meanwhile, a statement released from Disney Cruise Line yesterday insisted that the company will only proceed with the project if it can be done in an “environmentally responsible manner.”
“Our own internal team of animal and conservation experts is working closely with a highly qualified team of Bahamians and an experienced international firm to develop a comprehensive environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan that align with our company’s deep and longstanding commitment to the environment,” the statement read.
The company added that once the draft is submitted to the EIA, it will be reviewed by the government and then made available for “public consultation.”
“Disney Cruise Line remains committed to developing less than 20 percent of the property, employing sustainable building practices including an open-trestle pier that eliminates the need to dredge a ship channel, establishing environmental monitoring programmes during construction and operation and donating more than 190 acres of privately-owned land, including the southernmost point, to government for conservation and public use, among other commitments,” the statement added.
The company asserted that it is concentrated on “maximising Bahamian involvement” in the Lighthouse Point project to provide “the most significant economic impact possible,” and added that representatives have met with a “broad range of businesses and organisations,” who have the potential to provide support for the project.
“Through the Disney Conservation Fund, Disney has provided more than $13 million to marine conservation programmes around the globe, including several in the Bahamas, and since 2007 has been directly involved in leading a multi-year initiative to protect and rehabilitate coral reefs in the Bahamas. We will continue to work with leading conservation organisations and communities to protect special places in the Bahamas.”