By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PHILIP “Brave” Davis has called on Bahamians to urge the government to reject two development proposals for North Andros, which aim to harvest aragonite in the island. His comments come after this newspaper last week revealed three separate investment projects targeted for Andros. The most eye-catching is the North Andros Green Free Trade Zone being proposed by Los Angeles-based billionaire philanthropist, Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong. The proposal aims to create 750-plus full-time jobs, and 10,000 construction jobs over the build-out.
Some $200m-$250m would be invested over the first two phases of a development targeted at the Morgan’s Bluff area in North Andros, focused on “value-added” manufacturing involving the creation of finished products from aragonite and other Bahamian natural resources, rather than simply exporting the raw material.
Meanwhile, another group has pitched a proposed aggregate mining and land reclamation project that would generate more than 100 jobs - and a total $125m investment - at full build-out.
Reiterating his party’s position on the proposals yesterday, Mr Davis said while he understands the need for economic growth and employment opportunities on the island, every investment in the country must be “driven by the philosophy of Bahamians first”.
In view of this, Mr Davis said the proposals required “the utmost scrutiny” and “great circumspection”.
“We are cognisant of the need for work, jobs and development in Andros,” the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP said at a press conference held on the island yesterday.
“We start, however, from the unalterable premise that the development of Andros must be driven by the philosophy of ‘Bahamians first’ and the people of Andros must be in the driver’s seat. Every investment must be cognisant of the need to protect the patrimony of our country for the future.”
His comments comes after the Office of the Prime Minister confirmed on Monday that the North Andros Green Free Trade Zone proposal had been submitted to the government for review. However, officials said the proposal had not been analysed as yet.
Saying his party cannot support the terms and conditions of the proposed development in its current form, the opposition leader said it is the “unequivocal” position of the PLP that the Morgan Bluff port remain in the hands of Bahamians.
He said: “We are strongly opposed to the divestment and transfer of this port into private and foreign hands. Furthermore, we are opposed to the ownership participation of shareholders in the Arawak Cay Port Development Project in the future of this port to add to their ownership and control of local port facilities.”
He also raised environment concerns about the projects given the shallow water table in the area.
“On the face of it, these proposed projects raise the urgent question of the environmental sustainability of these or any other proposals, given the sensitive, vulnerable and delicate ecosystems in Andros.”
He continued: “This is the largest reserve of fresh water in the country. This is the largest continuous land mass in the country. For all of these reasons, there should be the utmost scrutiny of any project.
“The PLP is diametrically opposed to any insidious attempt at a national asset grab by FNM insiders. We, therefore, urge all Bahamians of goodwill to insist that this FNM government reject these proposals in their current forms.”
After yesterday’s press conference, The Tribune spoke to several residents on the island, who raised similar concerns about the proposals.
North Andros resident Sean Riley said he was concerned that the projects, if approved by government, would negatively impact residents’ livelihood.
“First and foremost, I’m a fishing guy… so when you talk about mining aragonite here in Morgan’s Bluff, you’re talking about destroying all of that,” he said.
“In North Andros and in Andros itself, the whole industry rolls on bone fishing other than the navy base so when you take away those facts, you basically handicapped Andros so to give 500,000 acres to one persons and Androsians can’t get one acre, it’s basically ludicrous.”
Another resident, Mitchell Johnson added: “The two proposed projects, providing if Androsians are in the driver’s seat, I’m with it. If we’re not going to get anything out of it, no, we don’t need it.
“My reason for saying that is because I’m now at a point in my life where I can’t work so I have to be able to cut road for my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren so if we can’t be a part of it, we don’t need it.”
Meanwhile, Andros native Bernard Evans, president of the National Congress of Trade Unions, said while he “welcomes” the proposed developments, they must be presented in a “sustained way” that benefits the people of Andros and Bahamians at large.
“Sustainability is the key and we can’t sacrifice for a short-term gain and lose the whole island and so while we welcome developments and what not, it has to be laid out properly and what not in a very sustained way and we have to reserve for not just for this generation but generations to come,” he told reporters.
“.. And so as long as the economic studies are done and most importantly from any economic benefit has to be given to Androsians too and not just jobs but ownership and that is what I would like to see happen.”