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ATLANTIS: DEAL WITH CONCERNS HEAD ON – RCI urged to address environment worries for $100m beach club

An artist's rendering of RCI’s plans for the beach club development on Paradise Island and (inset) Vaughn Roberts, senior vice-president of government affairs and special projects at Atlantis.

An artist's rendering of RCI’s plans for the beach club development on Paradise Island and (inset) Vaughn Roberts, senior vice-president of government affairs and special projects at Atlantis.

• SEE ALSO: PI project concern over ‘compelling opportunity’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A senior Atlantis executive yesterday urged Royal Caribbean to tackle “head on” the concerns raised over its $100m Paradise Island beach club by providing “a more robust” Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Vaughn Roberts, senior vice-president of government affairs and special projects, told Tribune Business that its faith in The Bahamas’ environmental approvals process had been somewhat restored after both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister last week pledged that the Royal Beach Club will not proceed without being subject to proper regulatory scrutiny.

He revealed that the mega resort’s confidence in the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) process had been shaken after the 28 questions it submitted following the first Royal Beach Club public consultation went unanswered for almost 18 months since the first EIA was discussed in October 2021.

The Atlantis executive told this newspaper that critical answers are now needed over whether the cruise giant’s plans call for the shoreline and beach on western Paradise Island to be changed or expanded, and if structures such as jetties and piers will be constructed on them and extend into Nassau Harbour.

This, Mr Roberts warned, could have unintended consequences for other Paradise Island beaches and those on New Providences northern shore, and he urged the Government to ensure Royal Caribbean puts in place the necessary funding and structures to cover any remediation work that may become necessary.

Other critical issues for Atlantis involve how its potential near-neighbour intends to handle, treat and dispose of both solid waste and wastewater from a site that is not accessible by land and can only be reached by sea. Mr Roberts said the mega resort, which together with Baha Mar is The Bahamas’ largest private sector employer, had been “quite alarmed” and “quite surprised” to hear that the Royal Beach Club was approved and set to break ground imminently.

The Prime Minister subsequently reassured Atlantis that the latter event is not scheduled to occur until all environmental issues have been satisfactorily resolved, and Mr Roberts yesterday called on Royal Caribbean to be “proactive” in addressing the concerns raised by itself and others. The 28 questions have since expanded to 50.

“We’ve followed the whole project very closely. We’ve just continued to pay very close attention to it. It’s part of Paradise Island, and we’re the master developer of Paradise Island,” he told Tribune Business, recalling how the initial Royal Caribbean EIA was presented in September 2021.

“One of the biggest problems was the EIA was not comprehensive enough for a project of this size. It wasn’t clear, even in the EIA, what the plans were for waste water and waste water treatment.... Coming out of that process, Giselle [Pyfrom, Atlantis’ attorney] and I were quite vocal raising questions. There just wasn’t enough information in the EIA.

“We went back with 28 questions that we submitted in October 2021, mainly concerning the environment and how to deal with waste water and waste management.” Mr Roberts said Atlantis followed up with Royal Caribbean, the DEPP, minister of the environment and the respective offices of Prime Minister Philip Davis KC and deputy prime minister Chester Cooper in a bid to obtain the answers it was seeking, but to no avail.

Then the Government suddenly announced last week that it had approved the Royal Beach Club to proceed provided it obtained the necessary environmental permits. “From our perspective, it certainly doesn’t give us a whole lot of confidence in the DEPP process going forward to not get any response to questions from 2021,” Mr Roberts told this newspaper.

“We were quite surprised to hear the project had been approved, and see an article quoting the Prime Minister that work would start almost immediately. We were quite alarmed because we had all this discussion trying to figure out how Royal Caribbean was going to address some of the issues that were raised... We weren’t aware of how close it was to getting approval.”

Asked how optimistic Atlantis is now, following Mr Davis’ intervention, that its concerns will be addressed and it will receive the answers it is seeking, Mr Roberts replied: “I think we’re more confident now than we were a week ago. I think the response to our move has raised the visibility of it for the public and the Government. Our commitment is to continue to follow it and be open with the public on our concerns.”

He emphasised that Atlantis was not seeking to unduly derail, block or disrupt Royal Caribbean’s Paradise Island but, rather, ensure that the pristine beach, water and marine environment that forms the bedrock of its investment in The Bahamas - and that of other Nassau/Paradise Island resorts - is not unnecessarily disrupted or harmed.

Affirming that the mega resort is willing to find “common ground” with the cruise giant and work with it, especially since it has experience itself in operating both reverse osmosis and wastewater treatment plants, Mr Roberts confirmed that Atlantis met with Royal Caribbean executives in January 2023 to discuss the issues presented by its Royal Beach Club plans.

“We met with them in January this year,” he confirmed. “At that point they were still in discussions with the Government over their new proposal, so they were not very forthcoming with the information they put on the table at that time, but made a commitment to collaborate with us.”

Another meeting between the two sides was already scheduled for March 24, and Mr Roberts said he hopes it will still proceed despite a public airing of the issues. He added that Atlantis had followed up twice since January seeking answers to its queries, and this had been acknowledged by Royal Caribbean.

Tribune Business understands that Royal Caribbean was both blindsided, and taken aback, that Atlantis and its president and managing director, Audrey Oswell, went public with the resort’s concerns. It was suggested that the January encounter was instigated by the cruise giant - rather than the resort - as it sought to foster a good relationship with its potential Paradise Island neighbour.

One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that Royal Caribbean had not answered many of Atlantis’ questions bit argued that, at this stage, it was impossible to provide some of the details being requested because amenities such as the proposed waste water treatment plant were still in the design phase.

Mr Roberts, meanwhile, said he believes Royal Caribbean will have to submit a revised Royal Beach Club EIA and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) given that the project’s “scale has changed”. He added: “I’m hopeful Royal Caribbean would have used the comments we provided to inform some of the design elements they submit in the EIA.

“I guess the request is for the process to be more robust, and for the EIA to be more robust and cover these things. We’re just hoping to have a very robust EIA that will hopefully address the issues because the concerns have been out there for 18 months, and when we go through that process the concerns of the public are raised and investigated through that process, and the process is responsive.

“That is so we don’t sit for 18 months wondering what is happening on the project, and that it doesn’t move forward without a thorough EIA...... It’s been quite disappointing to have had to get to the phase where we had to go public. The concerns, we think, can be addressed. It may come at some cost, but the concerns can be addressed.”

Listing deficiencies identified by Atlantis with the first EIA, Mr Roberts called on Royal Caribbean to “make clear” how it will deal with waste water and the treated product, and if the Water & Sewerage Corporation will be involved in helping to provide a solution.

And, given that significant solid waste will be generated by hundreds of passengers visiting on an almost daily basis, he questioned how this would be moved to the New Providence landfill given the absence of land/road access to the western Paradise Island site.

“They didn’t do a comprehensive study of what marine life was there,” Mr Roberts said of the first EIA. “They just didn’t do a thorough survey of existing conditions to really analyse the impact. This wasn’t a thorough EIA, and it’s hard to tell what was being proposed as there were some inconsistencies in the drawing and the narrative.”

Comments

birdiestrachan 1 year, 4 months ago

Mr Maury of the cruise port does not have a problem with the development , it seems every one wants a piece of the pie, and some want the whole pie

DonAnthony 1 year, 4 months ago

Birdie not often I agree with you but on this issue I do. This is simple, the EIA must be completed first and all environmental concerns addressed so we have confidence the project can be completed in an environmentally sound way. Secondly, the template (similar to the Nassau cruise port) must be followed: 1% to a national fund and 49% Bahamian equity ownership achieved through a share offering filling the orders from the bottom up. That way potentially thousands of Bahamians can have ownership and share in the wealth creation of our beautiful bahamaland. Satisfy these two criteria and all else is noise in the market. There are a great deal of special interests only looking out for themselves and not the Bahamian people with this project!

Dawes 1 year, 4 months ago

Lol thinking that the EIA is going to say anything that will stop the project. This has been decided long ago. I wouldn't even be suprised if there is a breakwater put in which would destroy the whole area envioronmentally.

DonAnthony 1 year, 4 months ago

Projects in the Bahamas are often amended based on the EIA. On the face of it there do not seem to be serious environmental issues: no dredging, docks to receive ferry will be on harbor side, no large hotels, just a beach house with cabanas etc. Waste and other issues will have to be adequately addressed but let the experts do their jobs before we overreact.

Maximilianotto 1 year, 4 months ago

Who cares? It’s 💰💰💰only for a select few.

ThisIsOurs 1 year, 4 months ago

I hope Mr Roberts remembers that Oban was cleared for an oil refinery in the middle of a nature reserve. Anybody with money or connections could get anything in this country.. I dont know the workings, must be black magic.

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