By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Staniel Cay homeowner yesterday said he is “ready for anything” and plans to seek “significant damages” from fellow residents after the Judicial Review challenge to his property’s construction was dismissed.
Kevin Doyle, who operates a charter airline, Staniel Air, which transports visitors to the island from Fort Lauderdale, told Tribune Business he intends to resume building his “private villa” as early as Monday after Justice Neil Brathwaite yesterday also removed the year-long injunction that has barred such work.
While all parties are now awaiting the judge’s written verdict, John Wilson KC, the McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes senior partner, confirmed yesterday’s oral ruling in favour of his client. “The Judicial Review application has been refused, and the injunction has been discharged,” he said in response to this newspaper’s inquiries.
“There will be a significant damages application. They’ve prevented him from completing his project for one year, so these damages are likely to be significant.” However, the possibility remains that the verdict will be challenged before the Court of Appeal, although that will not be determined until the written ruling is released.
Mr Doyle, speaking after yesterday’s verdict, said the plans for his property’s redevelopment “went through the Ministry of Works” and all other relevant government agencies, including “the same guy” who acted as an expert witness for his opponents - meaning Romauld Ferreira, former minister of the environment.
The project passed through the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP), and obtained its Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC), when Mr Ferreira had ministerial responsibility for that agency. However, after returning to the private sector following the September 16, 2021, general election, he was effectively working to challenge, and help overturn, a permit issued by a government agency he oversaw.
Mr Ferreira, in a report conducted on behalf of Mr Doyle’s opponents that was entered as evidence before the Supreme Court, alleged: “The site is heavily impacted by extensive excavation and mining works. The impact to the environment has been dramatic, extensive and irreversible.
“The entire crest of the Ironshore (rocky shoreline) has been completely mined and excavated down to the main high tide mark. These excavations are so extensive that the volume of fill mined from the site cannot be stored on the site. Nor is it conceivable that all of the mined material will be used on-site to construct ‘the single family residence’.”
Five other Staniel Cay homeowners, including two Bahamians, Don Rolle and Loyal Rolle, together with Paul Fuchs, Robert Kelly Blake Jr and Daniel Clay Smith Jr, had initiated Judicial Review proceedings seeking to quash the Certificate of Environmental Clearance that the DEPP issued to Mr Doyle’s DeepBlue Properties on August 9, 2021, so that it could proceed with construction.
They claimed the property was “larger than existing boutique hotels in Staniel Cay”, and an attempt to construct a mini high-end resort under the guise of a family residential property. Mr Doyle, though, described the project as a “family residence” and not the “Hotel Thunderball” that was originally proposed.
While admitting in legal papers that a boutique hotel, named after the James Bond movie that filmed key scenes in the nearby Exuma cave system, was initially planned for the location, Mr Doyle asserted in prior legal filings: “I have never submitted those plans for approval to the Ministry of Works nor the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) specifically.”
Speaking to Tribune Business yesterday, he reiterated that he had fulfilled all the requirements mandated by The Bahamas’ planning and environmental laws. “I did an independent environmental study with an approved government consultant to make sure we crossed all the ‘t’s’ and dotted all the ‘i’s’,” Mr Doyle said. “It should never really have gone to the courts.”
Asserting that two of his opponents are immediate neighbours, he added: “They were just trying to discourage me from building. At the end of the day, it didn’t work. The plans approved are the ones we’re moving forward with, and as early as Monday we will start moving forward with constructing the private villa.
“These guys don’t understand. They think they’re stopping me and being spiteful to me. I’ve had equipment sitting on the lot for almost a year. I’ve got until February 9 to put in for damages, and we’ll see what the judge awards me. When they see that they will think twice about going to court. I’ve already been notified by my contractor that they’ve going to get started on Monday. All they did was delay the project and take away the opportunity for locals to work.
“Hopefully these guys don’t want to push it any further, but we’re ready for anything. If they push it further I’ll obviously defend myself. I own the property outright; I’ve done nothing illegal. This is more of a personal grudge than anything else. That’s pretty much the extent of it. We’ll see what happens.”
The five Staniel Cay homeowners behind the Judicial Review had sought Supreme Court orders that public consultation take place over the development, and that the DEPP require Mr Doyle and DeepBlue Properties to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) before any approvals and permits are granted.
Mr Doyle subsequently refuted the contents of Mr Ferreira’s report and the innuendo that his project is a boutique hotel in disguise. “Contrary to what the intended applicants suggest, I did not just change the application from a boutique hotel to a single family residence,” he argued. “I obtained different plans for the single family residence and those were submitted to the DEPP for approval for the CEC.
“The reason the residence is designed with eight bedrooms and the various amenities is that I have six kids and grandkids, so the eight rooms become useful for my direct family. We also have a big extended family that normally comes to The Bahamas with me. Having a chef is a personal choice, and I am in the pool industry, hence the pools.” Mr Doyle also denied the excavation carried out to-date violated the CEC terms as alleged by Mr Ferreira.