By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamian environmental activists yesterday urged Disney Cruise Line to update studies for its Lighthouse Point proposal to account for the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change.
The groups behind the Stop Disney - Last Chance for Lighthouse Point campaign, in a July 23 letter to senior Disney executives, said The Bahamas must avoid being tempted into rushing ahead with investment projects due to the “significant pressure” for an economic and jobs recovery post-COVID-19.
The letter, addressed to Dr Mark Penning, Disney’s vice-president for animals, science and the environment, called on the cruise line to provide “a supplement” to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted to the Government in December 19 to address these issues.
“We are aware that Disney submitted an EIA for the project to the Bahamas Environment, Science & Technology Commission (BEST Commission) for a technical review late last December. The world has drastically changed in the last six months,” the Bahamian groups said.
“Climate change, COVID-19, and the systemic oppression of marginalised groups are arguably the most pressing challenges of our time, and pose major implications for the cruise ship port at Lighthouse Point.
“Disney and the Government of The Bahamas must make the..... necessary changes and address these realities before the required public consultation on the EIA and any reasoned decision on moving ahead with the project.”
The letter was signed by Sam Duncombe, reEarth’s executive director; Casuarina Mckinney-Lambert, the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Fund’s executive director; Joseph Darville, Save the Bays’ executive director; Rashema Ingraham, Waterkeepers Bahamas’ executive director; and Marc Yaggi, the Waterkeeper Alliance’s executive director.
Suggesting that Disney’s proposed $250m-$400m cruise port “could make The Bahamas even more vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19” unless well thought-out and developed, the environmental groups added: “Eleuthera is a largely-rural, lightly-populated island with no hospitals, minimal medical resources and limited infrastructure.
“The protection of facility employees and local residents against disease from thousands of visitors a week coming ashore at Lighthouse Point is crucial. While there is significant pressure to rush ahead with new developments as the Bahamian economy attempts to recover from COVID-19, it is crucial that the port is developed responsibly and sustainably in the face of global pandemics of this kind.”
Disney was also urged to consider whether its project was “a fair deal for The Bahamas and South Eleuthera” on the basis that many communities close to Lighthouse Point suffer from “unemployment rates as high as 70 percent to 80 percent”.
“The EIA must include a full analysis of the equity of the project and any potential social justice ramifications,” the environmental groups added. “In order to proceed responsibly and fairly, Disney must be explicit about how this deal is fair to The Bahamas and the people of South Eleuthera...
“Disney has chosen to develop their cruise port in one of the most economically depressed areas of The Bahamas. Disney is a major international corporation whose annual income is over five times’ the annual GDP of The Bahamas as a whole. The EIA must examine the economic benefits of the project to ensure an equitable deal.
“This must include analysis of the contributions, for better or worse, of cruise port and cruise ship operations to environmental injustice and system inequality in The Bahamas; the comparative economic benefits of the cruise port for the company and the impoverished communities of South Eleuthera.”
While the draft EIA was submitted to the BEST Commission (now the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection) in December 2019, the activists said it had not been disclosed to the public to-date.
Mrs Duncombe said in a statement: “The Bahamas is still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and the economic fall-out from COVID-19. Now is not the time to rush ahead with business as usual. All future developments must carefully consider these threats to ensure that they are sustainable, safe and equitable.”
Mrs Mckinney-Lambert added: “Disney - and the Government of The Bahamas - should follow the lead of other countries in the Caribbean region, such as Belize, that now require all EIAs to assess climate change and its impacts. An EIA that does not include assessments of climate change simply does not adhere to the highest standard.”
Mr Darville said: “The events of the last six months have shone a bright light on the inequality in our societies. Disney needs to be transparent about the economic benefits and the environmental costs of the project to The Bahamas, and to the disadvantaged communities in South Eleuthera. Disney should join us in encouraging an open and honest discussion of environmental injustice in the EIA on Lighthouse Point.”
And Ms Ingraham added: “We lived through Hurricane Dorian. A changing climate and rising sea levels are the new realities which Disney and The Bahamas must fully consider before moving ahead with a major investment at Lighthouse Point.”
Messages sent to a Disney spokesperson were not returned before press deadline last night.