Exuma's Chamber of Commerce president yesterday said he was “really concerned” about the potential environmental impact from a $10m resort/marina project that is now seeking government permits.
Pedro Rolle told Tribune Business of The Marina at Hooper’s Bay: "I don't know much about the parties involved in the project. I don't know about their ability to do the project, but as a local resident consistently we have investors who are coming in, and I suppose they go and they get their approvals in Nassau and then they come and present it to us.”
The developers, led by Brent Hurt, sought to reassure Exuma residents during Monday's virtual planning meeting that they have both the expertise and financing to deliver the proposed development.
Mr Hurt, in particular, is no stranger to Exuma as he has already developed The Reserve at Hooper’s Bay. He explained that the marina project is an extension of his commitment to Exuma, and pledged that it will not follow that pattern of previously unfinished Family Island developments that tie up valuable real estate and scar the landscape.
Pointing to his successful track record, Mr Hurt reassured meeting attendees that The Marina at Hooper’s Bay will not be another failed investment project for Exuma.
Mr Rolle, though, said it was “insulting to locals” that developers too often obtained their permits from the central government in Nassau before coming to the Family Islands with their plans.
Despite knowing of Mr Hurt, Mr Rolle argued there was a “huge difference” between his other projects and this one as all the others made "no environmental impact in Exuma".
"I have reservations about it," he added. "I hate listening to promises and commitments from people when I think a significant bond or something needs to be put in place, for Exuma in trust, in the event that this doesn't work out as they are claiming. If we lose this investment, again, it ain't no big deal.
"We've got to be worth more than $10m or $12m. This is who Exuma is. We ought not to be risking our environment for $10m or $12m. When this project is done it is not going to transform Exuma."
Mr Rolle said there are two separate bodies of opinion on this project. One, which includes himself, sees the environmental dangers and is not too concerned about the $10m investment, while the other is focused on job creation for the short and long-term.
"The big picture is that there are inherent risks to this project, and the small picture is it’s going to give some people some jobs." he added.
The Marina at Hooper’s Bay is aiming to create 50 construction, and up to 30 full-time, jobs on Exuma if it receives the go-ahead from the government’s regulatory agencies. It will feature 11 villas containing 30-35 hotel rooms when full build-out is completed.
The project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), compiled by Caribbean Coastal Services (CCS), said: “This five-year project will employ up to 50 Bahamians during construction and up to an additional 25 to 30 residents for continuing services, which will have a positive impact on the Exuma economy.
“The project is expected to have a real estate sales value in excess of $10m. Additional revenue will be derived from marina slip leases, as well as hotel and restaurant income. The marina will be conveniently located within an estimated 30-minute drive from the Exuma International Airport in Moss Town, and an estimated ten minute drive to George Town.
“The marina is located on land directly across the Queens Highway from the former Bank of Bahamas building, and close to the Exuma Resource Centre, as well as other locally-owned businesses including Darville Lumber, Prime Island Meats, CNK Liquors and Smithy’s Market. Visitors to The Marina at Hooper’s Bay are expected to provide increased revenues to these businesses.”
According to the EIA, the Marina at Hooper’s Bay will be developed in two phases. “Phase one will include the acquisition of the [5.6 acre] project site. Also, the construction of the marina, restaurant, retail stores, roads, infrastructure (inclusive of underground utilities) and dry storage for boats will employ 50 Bahamian construction workers,” it said. This phase is expected to be completed in less than 18 months.
"Anticipated phase one expenditure is an estimated $2.5m. Phase two of the project consists of the construction of the marina villas (approximately 11 villas in total) which make up the 30-35 room hotel. The anticipated sale price of each marina villa will average $600,000 to $900,000 with total gross sales anticipated to exceed $10m.”
Mr Hurt did not respond to Tribune Business phone calls or e-mails seeking comment before press time last night.