By Fay Simmons
Tribune Business Reporter
A senior Royal Caribbean executive yesterday disclosed around half the investment in its Paradise Island project will be spent on cleaning and restoring much of the 17-acre prior to construction starting.
Jay Schneider, the cruise giant's chief product and innovation officer, estimated that the cost of such activities will amount to $50m. "Right now, we estimate it's going to cost about $50m in civil engineering, demolition, clean-up, regrading, getting the site into a natural habitat," he said. "And then we expect another $50-plus million in infrastructure added on with it.”
Mr Schneider led a media tour of the site yesterday, and pointed out several dilapidated houses on the property. He asserted that the majority of the site is in disrepair, and that Royal Caribbean's environmental commitments exceed those of any other development in The Bahamas.
He said: “There's been a lot of speculation and misconception of what is actually on the site. It's been described as pristine property, a pristine beach. We wanted you all to see the actual property itself. And I think because you saw, and you'll continue to see, most of the property is in significant disrepair.
"If you think of the various commitments we've made, we've addressed all of the significant environmental concerns and gone far above any other tourist destination in New Providence or, frankly, anywhere else in the Bahamas.”
The six environmental cornerstones, or pillars, of the cruise line's environmental commitments surrounding its Royal Beach club project include zero waste going to the New Providence landfill, now known as the New Providence Ecology Park, no dredging and transparent environmental monitoring. Mr Schneider said the project is environmentally positive, and proposed changes to the coastline will improve the beach.
"We've made a series of environmental commitments," he added. "One of the most important ones is zero waste to landfill. So the trash generated from this property will never make it into a Bahamian landfill…. So whether it is zero trash to the landfill, or zero waste to landfill, whether it's 100 percent green energy by 2030, whether it's the best-in-class waste treatment so wet waste will actually never make it into the ecosystem. It'll either be reused after treated or composted.
“We're committed to not dredging anywhere in and around the island. We don't believe we have to. We committed to no development on the northern shore and then, on the southern shore, only doing things that are necessary based on studying the kind of coral and marine life in and around the habitat. And the last, we've committed to making sure there's a local company who's doing transparent environmental monitoring during construction operations.
"The changes that we're making to the coastline have been deemed [to be] actually improving the ecosystem of the beach, not harming it. And so if you look at the totality of what we're proposing, it is environmentally positive.”
Mr Schneider revealed that proposed changes to the western Paradise Island site, which is located in the vicinity of Colonial Beach near the lighthouse, include pushing the existing seawall back several feet “Across the entire property there are a couple of changes that we're proposing making," he explained. "And these are largely done with the advice of coastal engineers.
"We're trying to figure out how to improve the actual habitat of the island itself. And so one of them is the sea walls that exist, the [one on the] eastern beach basically sits on the beach itself. And so the recommendation is to push back that seawall as far up into the vegetation off the beach. To make it significantly beneficial for the health of the beach itself.
"We want to get rid of the old Nicolas Cage house. We want to get rid of all the trash that he left behind when he abandoned the property and then we bought it. You'll see a house over here that literally the roof has fallen off, and the house is starting to slide into the harbour. We want to get rid of that.
"You'll find an old conch graveyard on the western side, and we've been asked by the Government to - when we clean this site up - remove that because during heavy winds that actually lifts the conch shells and brings them to the harbour and causes damage into the harbour, and so generally everything that we're doing is progressing the site in a very positive way.”
Royal Caribbean assembled 13 of the 17 acres it plans to use for the Royal Beach Club by steadily acquiring multiple residential properties on western Paradise Island from their owners, including Mr Cage. While extensive clean-up is required with some of those properties, and other parts of the 13 privately-owned acres, environmental activists yesterday disputed that the same was true for all the project site - especially the four Crown Land acres that Royal Caribbean is leasing.
Eric Carey, the Bahamas National Trust's (BNT) former executive director, who will review Royal Caribbean's Environmental Management Plan (EMP) on behalf of Atlantis, maintained that the beach itself and the Crown Land are untouched and pristine despite the derelict homes on the portion already owned by the cruise line.
Mr Carey acknowledged that these buildings should be removed, but argued that their demolition should not be tied to acquiring Crown Land and creating an environmental issue due to the high volume of guests the development is projected to attract daily. He said: “The pristine beach and our Crown Land is not in disrepair. There are some dilapidated buildings there which might be part of an operation that was there, but the beach itself is still very much pristine.
“They have purchased acres with derelict properties, that's great…. We're happy that someone is going to take care of derelict buildings on Paradise Island. It's great there's someone who is prepared to clean them up, but cleaning them up shouldn't be tied with taking away Crown Land from Bahamians and also creating other environmental issues.”
“They should not have purchased them, because what they're proposing is to then tie that into the use of the last pristine beach on Paradise Island. So in addition, to taking the tiny little beach, you're now putting all of these people, all of this infrastructure, on 17 acres, thousands of people a day.”
Royal Caribbean last week released environmental and other questions asked about the Royal Beach Club project at an earlier public hearing, together with its answers to those queries. Mr Carey yesterday maintained that the responses did not answer the difficult questions and provided minimal details. He argued that until more details are revealed the environmental community’s concerns will not be eased.
He said: “The public consultation report is a regurgitation of the questions asked in the Town Meeting. We don't think that most of the difficult questions have been answered. Atlantis doesn't think that they've adequately addressed all of the components that they've laid out because they have provided zero details. You cannot address concerns by just glossing over stuff. You have to provide the details. And so far, no details have been provided.
“We hear what you're saying ‘we’re going to do the gold standard’, but your record doesn't give us comfort. There are two things. Your environmental record doesn't give us comfort. That's one, and secondly, you provided no details. So we don't have anything to review from an expert perspective.
“We're waiting to see what details they put together so that we can review it. We want to see how it measures up against the EIA and what's in their EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). But so far, there is nothing in the public domain that gives anybody any level of comfort, any level of detail, as to how they plan to actually execute this gold standard because their record does not give us comfort that they know how to do it.”
Mr Carey insisted it is nonsensical for a foreign conglomerate to create a Bahamian experience from a socio-economic and environmental perspective. “It really is an extreme, complex oxymoron that we're asking a foreign conglomerate to set up a Bahamian experience. It doesn't make sense from the socio-economic perspective and, from the environmental perspective, we still don't think it makes sense," he argued.
Royal Caribbean has pledged that the Government, together with private Bahamian investors, will have a combined 49 percent ownership in the Royal Beach Club, while much of the operation and management will be run by Bahamian firms and entrepreneurs.