By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
SEVERAL local environmental groups have written to Walt Disney’s top senior sustainability officer, raising questions about the adequacy of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) now underway for Disney Cruise Line’s proposed Lighthouse Point project.
The collaborative letter, penned to Elissa Margolis, The Walt Disney Company’s senior vice president for enterprise social responsibility, by the directors of BREEF, EARTHCARE, reEarth, Save The Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas, notes the recently released Heads of Agreement (HOA) for Lighthouse Point describes a project “far larger than anticipated”.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has again defended the Disney deal from push back, telling supporters at a church service celebrating his administration’s second year in office that he needed to clear up some “misinformation” surrounding the project.
Dr Minnis said while his party will ensure high environmental standards are met with any project by Bahamians or foreign investors, the Disney project is a model of “careful development”.
“My fellow FNMs, let me clear up some misinformation that is going around. Every government has to balance economic development and environmental protection and preservation,” he said yesterday. “The new project in South Eleuthera is a model of careful, balanced development. The PLP also does not support this development. The PLP and some of the private interests don’t care about the needs of the people of South Eleuthera who have been suffering and in need of jobs [and] opportunities for a long time.
“When I hear some people complain, it’s like they want the islands of The Bahamas for their own private playground. They want to keep everybody else out, it’s as if some people don’t care about the needs of the majority, especially those who desperately need jobs and economic opportunities to care for themselves and for their families.”
The prime minister added: “The FNM is the party that doubled the size of the national park system. The FNM is the party that instituted environmental impact assessment studies, in this spirit we will remain faithful stewards of our environment. We will ensure high environmental standards and safeguards with investment projects by Bahamians and international investors.”
In the activists’ letter, the groups also pointed out that the details of the project outlined in the HOA depicts a much greater risk for potentially negative impact on the environment, while promising “far fewer and more restricted economic benefits.”
The groups, most of which were associated with the initial ‘Save Lighthouse Point’ push, also noted the natural and culture significance of the property, raising issue with Disney’s proposed construction and its effects on the surrounding seabed.
Given the size and scope of the proposed project — the vast physical infrastructure and a potential human impact of up to 20,000 visitors per week — the groups questioned why Disney Cruise Lines has released no public information regarding the project’s EIA.
According to the groups, The Bahamas lacks the capacity and resources to analyse and manage environmental impacts of such a large project.
As such, they urged Disney not to interpret these shortcomings as a licence to exploit the situation, but rather use its position to “raise the standard in regard to environmental protection, as well as cultural preservation and economic opportunity” in The Bahamas.
In line with this, the groups called on Disney to be “consistent” with US and international best practices and produce an EIA inclusive of consideration of alternatives including a “no-build” option and location of the proposed cruise port at another site.
The groups also praised the recent visit of Waterkeepers Alliance President Robert F Kennedy Jr, and his comments on Disney’s acquisition and proposed development of Lighthouse Point.
Mr Kennedy last month claimed that companies do not have the right to destroy something they can’t create.
“God created Lighthouse Point and He created it perfectly. Disney needs to show that they are going to protect it and not degrade it,” he said during a guest lecture the Regency Theatre in Grand Bahama last month.
The government and Disney Cruise Lines signed the Lighthouse Point HOA during a closed-door ceremony in early March.
The deal, which was announced formally by Dr Minnis during a town hall meeting in Eleuthera, allows for a $250m to $400m cruise port and entertainment facility at the property and for the conveyance of 190 acres of land along the southernmost point of the property — a $6.29m value — to the government for establishment of a national park.
Under the HOA, Disney has ensured a minimum of 120 Bahamians will be employed directly during the construction of the project.
Disney also has committed to aim for an overall ratio of 80 percent Bahamian workers to 20 percent non-Bahamian workers during the life of the construction phase of the project.
However, this element would be subject to qualified labour being available, as there is a “need to ensure the highest level of technical compliance with international standards.”