THIS is a long story – 60 years long in fact.
An issue has been ongoing in Eleuthera over common land. For decades now, some of that land has been in use as an airport and a civil waste site by the government – a total of 730 acres all told.
It dates back to the 1950s, when a decision was made to build an airport on a portion of 6,000 acres subject to a commonage grant. Even back then, residents felt their property rights were being violated, but construction began amid promises of compensation from a portion of landing fees – promises that went unfulfilled.
The airport expanded in the 1970s, and more land went in the 1990s for a garbage dump and other facilities.
The upshot of it is that the whole matter has gone unresolved for decades – so why is it news again now? Another expansion was planned for the airport, increasing from an initial 450 acres to 550 acres and finally to 658 acres. Talks were held about a partnership between government and the Harbour Island Commonage Committee, and things were looking good… for a while.
Then talks went quiet in the spring of last year – and the government instead decided on a compulsory land purchase. No partnership. No settling of decades-old grievances.
There seems to be little reason forthcoming about why the talks collapsed or why the government changed course – but it has left more than 3,000 landowners with a say in the matter without a deal and without an explanation. Good luck to the FNM candidate in the Eleuthera constituency in the election with all of that to explain to win over voters.
The matter is not yet over, and inevitably it seems the courts will play a part in the final outcome.
But the whole saga is one of Bahamian people being brushed off for decades – not only by different governments but even dating back to before independence. Is it any wonder so many people feel so powerless when dealing with government, or that it makes little difference which party is in charge when either one ignores calls to deal with an issue for year after year after year?
The government could, of course, come forward and explain it’s reasons for it’s decisions in this matter – why it chose to end the discussions, why it chose not to go forward with a partnership, and what it intends to do to resolve issues left so long outstanding. With money tight amid the pandemic, it might even find a partnership an attractive option to revisit.
Either way, this still hasn’t been sorted out – and with an election in the wind, it seems unlikely to be resolved this side of whatever election date is chosen.
After the celebrations from activists after the Bahamas Petroleum Company struck out in its search for oil at its first well, the realisation has settled in that the firm has not gone away.
The company is still talking about further exploratory drilling in its other four fields for which it has licences, adding that data from its well west of Andros will “more accurately inform and direct” its future plans.
With even the Prime Minister saying he is against oil drilling, there is, however, now a pause before the prospect of a second well – and the company must submit its renewal applications by the end of next month. Its current licences expire at the end of June.
A court case also rumbles on – and it is clear that BPC isn’t backing away just yet.
The government needs to be forthcoming about how it will handle the licence application process – and whether it is minded to approve or reject those, not least of all because of the public interest in the matter.
Will the government bet on oil, or will it back the environmental activists? It’s a big decision – and it’s coming very soon.