|Dredging begins on Bell Island|
NG Business Editor
Published: Aug 30, 2011
Dredging has begun on Bell Island, Guardian Business can confirm, after the government approved the request of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV to clear a basin for his marina.
The private island, falling within the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, the oldest of its kind in The Bahamas, has been a source of controversy among politicians and environmentalists that feel the area must be protected.
According to Neil McKinney, the president of the Bahamas National Trust, his organization managed to reduce the dredging “significantly”, and it will impact only a few acres. “It is a very small percentage,” he said.
“Everything [Khan] is doing has gone through the proper channels and he has permits. He has been up-front in what he is doing. There was no reason to say no. It would be like if I came to your house and said you couldn’t build something.”
The issue stems from the fact that the park was created in 1959, McKinney added. There were private islands on the site long before this time, which has created a clash between public and private interest.
Khan is the current Imam of Shia Imami Nizari Ismaili Muslims, who is responsible for the interpretation of the faith of his followers. He is heir to the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest private development networks in the world.
In December 2010, Perry Christie, the PLP leader, stated if his party were in office they would never have approved the dredging in a national park.
“It’s a real concern,” he remarked in a 2010 interview.
“We have an obligation to recognize moving forward that there are some parts of The Bahamas that ought to be protected forever and forever and forever.”
However, McKinney insisted that the Trust has the situation under control.
He said the Trust has people on the board from various universities around the world to discuss the environmental impact. There have been similar issues in the U.S., he added, and a fine balance between the rights of individuals and the public interest is indeed possible to strike. “We get daily reports there,” he said.
“There are also curtains around where the dredging is happening. It is being done to international standards.”
When it’s complete, the dredging on Bell Island will be able to accommodate Khan’s yachts, including vessels as long as 150-feet.
Earl Deveaux, Minister of the Environment, declined to comment on the situation, although he insisted Khan was “held to appropriate standards”.