By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Opponents of a $580m south Abaco resort project have launched an online petition that has amassed 767 signatures in just over one week against the development.
The petition, started by Sustainable South Abaco and aimed at the Prime Minister, warns that approving the Tyrsoz Family Holdings project "will lead to irreparable damage to the ecology and history of South Abaco, while risking the livelihood of generations of Bahamians that rely on these resources".
It urges the government to "protect historical, ecological and cultural resources along Soldier Road at Southwest Point, and Lantern Head near Hole in the Wall in South Abaco", adding: "Both sites contain historic ruins of standing buildings, stone wall carvings and remarkable artifacts.
"Lantern Head ruins, from around 1820, predate emancipation, and the settlement of Alexandria, from around 1836, was established during the building of the Hole in the Wall lighthouse along with Soldier Road that was constructed to connect the lighthouse to the Alexandria settlement at Southwest point.
"Both sites are listed on the Bahamas National Register of Historical Sites. The developer has no plan to protect these historical sites. Therefore, it is counterproductive of our Government to allow destruction of our history instead of preserving it."
Tyrsoz Family Holdings and its principal, Ronnie Ben-Zur, have repeatedly emphasised that addressing all environmental concerns is at the top of their agenda. The developer's promotional material promises to create "a world-class, environmentally-sustainable luxury island retreat with local appeal via the participating community while, importantly, maintaining South Abaco's natural charm".
"Tyrsoz Family Holdings Ltd's financial advisor and real estate developer, Ra'anan 'Ronnie' Ben-Zur, is proposing a low-density, ultra-luxury hotel, residential and marina development for the secluded undeveloped coastal region of South Abaco, Bahamas," their four-page booklet said.
"Based on sound economical footing, yet designed with great care and responsibility to the environment and original nature of the area, it is intended to provide significant ongoing and expanding employment opportunities for the community and important infrastructure improvements for the benefit of residents and visitors alike."
This has yet to impress Sustainable South Abaco, which is a grouping of local and international organisations including the Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association; Abaco Lodge; Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation; Bairs Lodge; Bonefish and Tarpon Trust; Fisheries Conservation Foundation; Friends of the Environment; Islands by Design; and Delphi Club.
Individual parrot and conservation experts are also part of the group, due to the proximity of breeding and nesting grounds for two endangered species - the Abaco parrot and Kirtland's warbler - to the proposed development site.
"The proposed development includes paving the road from the highway to the lighthouse and to both developments, three hotels, 50 estate lots, 80 residential lots, employee housing, a medical clinic, and an 18 hole golf course at Lantern Head, as well as a water park, a marina village and an inland 136 slip mega-yacht marina dug from the land at Soldier Road," the petition alleges.
"The Sandy Point airstrip will house a private fixed base operation (FBO) facility and the runway will be lengthened to facilitate private jets. When completed, most of this development will be private and off limits to Bahamians. Therefore, it is counterproductive for the Government to allow high-density development on Abaco that destroys the land and excludes Bahamians."
Signatories to the petition seemed to agree. Sandra Shriner wrote: "Not every 'natural habitat' has to be built to rival Miami. The Abacos belong to Bahamians." Darrell Brown added: "This should always be a protected area. It has many diverse animals and plants that are not found in other areas of the Abacos."
Meanwhile, Buddy Pinder said: "The developer is inexperienced and probably under financed. If he tears up the land and the project fails we have yet another scar on the land of our beautiful Bahamas." And Toni Bennett added: "I'm a part-time Long Island resident of Long Island, Bahamas. This project is too large and will only serve to make the developers more wealth.
"It will not help the Bahamian people. History needs to be protected as well. Long Island has a huge environmentally damaging project being considered also. It's important to protect the waters and what lives in them first and foremost, otherwise you will end up with nothing."
Mr Ben-Zur's career has largely involved transforming existing resort properties, such as the Radisson at JFK Airport and multiple hotels in Atlanta and Florida, rather than the "greenfield" property earmarked for the Tyrsoz Family Holdings project.
The developer is pledging to create 600 full-time jobs, and inject $2bn into south Abaco's struggling economy, during the development's first 10 years in operation.