|BNT fears over Bimini ‘mobilization’|
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Sep 27, 2013
The Bahamas National Trust yesterday expressed its “deep concern” at an announcement by Resorts World Bimini that it is “mobilizing” for construction of a new pier, for which the Minister of Tourism and MP for Bimini confirmed the company has yet to receive government approval to build.
BNT President Eric Carey noted that the organization’s anxiety arises in light of the fact that, despite ongoing efforts, it has yet to see any environmental impact assessments (EIAs) to accompany plans to construct what it believes could be a 1,000-foot-long jetty being built in an area which it maintains is of great ecological sensitivity.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe confirmed that no such EIA has been provided to the government to date.
In a statement released late yesterday afternoon, Resorts World Bimini said that “site preparation and preliminary work is underway for the construction of Resorts World Bimini’s new marina hotel and the mobilization of teams and equipment to support works for the island’s new pier.”
The company “reaffirmed” its commitment to “sustainable development” on the island, where it said its Bimini SuperFast service has been a “game changer.”
The pier is understood to be intended to accommodate the Bimini Superfast Ferry which has been bringing thousands of passengers daily to the island from Florida. To date, those passengers must depart the ferry some way off from Bimini and then be brought into the island by smaller boats, cutting down on their time on the island itself.
Resorts World Bimini is the new name of the former Bimini Bay Resort, which was re-named after being acquired by Malaysian conglomerate the Genting Group in March 2013.
The company has committed to investing a further $150 million in the 8.8 square mile island to bring on stream a further 350 hotel rooms.
Bimini to date has seen its room inventory increase from 176 in 2003 to 830 in 2013, leading some to question the sustainability of the venture which Genting is undertaking, regardless of the question of information disclosure on the latest development project.
Resorts World Bimini’s Director of Public Affairs, Michelle Malcolm, said in yesterday’s release that Resorts World will work very closely with the Ministry of Environment, BEST Commission and other relevant Government agencies to ensure that best practices are followed and that there will be “minimal impact on the surrounding environment” as it moves ahead with its development plans.
“The construction of a new pier means our guests will have more direct access to the island and additional time to explore on shore,” said Resorts World Bimini President Dana Leibovitz.
“That translates into more tourist spending, more jobs for Biminites, and more appreciation for Bimini’s natural habitat, which is among the island’s chief assets. The natural beauty and the fauna of Bimini is what attracted us and many visitors to these shores, and we will continue to work in a partnership spirit with the people and government of The Bahamas to assist in enhancing and improving the overall standard of living and infrastructure development on the island.
“We are keenly aware of challenges that the public sector faces in maintaining infrastructure and public services in so many islands, and we are glad that our investment will have a positive impact in these areas, both socially and economically,” Leibovitz added.
In an interview with Guardian Business yesterday, Minister Wilchcombe, who is also MP for Bimini, expressed surprise that the company had use the term “mobilizing”, and after double checking with the Office of the Prime Minister, told Guardian Business that Resorts World Bimini has not to date received permits to undertake any work.
“What does ‘mobilizing’ mean though? I think it’s just anticipation. I know they have some schedules they want to make and I know they want to move as fast as they can,” he said.
Wilchcombe’s questioning of the meaning of the statements made in the release by Resorts World Bimini comes despite the fact that he is personally quoted within it.
“This is a significant moment in the further advancement and development of Bimini’s tourism infrastructure, it will pave the way for ensuring that Bimini truly is the gateway to The Bahamas,” the statement quotes the Minister as saying with reference to the company’s plans.
Asked if Resorts World Bimini has yet provided an environmental impact assessment relating to the pier project to the government, Wilchcombe said he was “not aware” but affirmed that it is the government’s policy that no work would be undertaken until such an EIA is in their hands.
“All required approvals must be met and everything, including EIAs and all required documentation, must be in our hands before any project proceeds so therefore I would think nothing would happen until that is such,” said the Minister and MP.
BNT President Eric Carey described it as “worrying” that any activity would be taking place given that “no one” has yet seen an EIA relating to the project, which is understood to be planned for an area where there are significant amounts of coral.
“We haven’t seen any details. We don’t know the length, the depth, or the extent of any channel, dredging or turning basin for the ferry, so that is worrisome that these things are being mobilized and no one in the public that I know, and certainly the National Trust, hasn’t seen the EIA.”
The BNT has been publicly calling for the Government to provide it with the EIA for some time.
Yesterday Carey said that the organization would now also direct its calls for the EIA to Resorts World Bimini as the developer of the project.