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Bimini resort gets permit for controversial pier

Decision to offer permit despite lack of public EIA
  • Michelle Malcolm. FILE

Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 22, 2013

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Resorts World Bimini has confirmed that it has received construction permits which would allow it to build a 1,000 foot pier and accompanying 4.5 acre docking “island” for its superfast ferry.

This authorization has occurred in the absence of the release of an environmental impact assessment for public consumption with respect to the controversial project.

The Miami Herald first reported the granting of the construction permit on Friday, and Guardian Business was able to confirm this development yesterday with Director of Public Affairs for the Bimini resort Michelle Malcolm.

Echoing sentiments highlighted by Guardian Business, the Florida newspaper highlighted the issuance of the permit in an article in which it noted “mixed feelings” about the proposed mooring, ranging from those who believe it will bring a boost in business, to those who “fear environmental Armageddon will squash the last vestiges of Bimini’s laid back, Out Island charm.”

Guardian Business earlier reported that the company has come under significant criticism from organizations such as the Bahamas National Trust and the Bimini Blue Coalition who have been seeking to access an environmental impact assessment outlining what the potential environmental impact of the project may be.

The pier is being placed in an area dotted with coral reefs, which form much of the reason why Bimini has long be renowned for its dive sites.

The company has suggested that it will mitigate the impact on these reefs by moving them and creating an “artificial reef” elsewhere from the relocated corals.

However, stakeholders such as Neal Watson of the Bimini Sands Resorts’ scuba diving center told The Miami Herald that he fears the reefs and popular dive sites will be “devastated” by the pier and the ongoing movement of the ship in and out of the area.

Guardian Business understands that the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology (BEST) Commission received a copy of an environmental impact assessment for the project several months ago. However, the document – unlike those in the case of most other major resort developments, particularly of a controversial nature – had up until press time yesterday yet to be posted on BEST’s website, despite calls for its release.

Phillip Weech, director of the BEST Commission, has stated that the commission can only post documents such as EIAs after it obtains authorization from the minister responsible, given the Official Secrets Act.

He has declined to comment publicly on the contents of the Resorts World Bimini EIA, citing this act.

Few details have been provided about the pier itself, however The Miami Herald in its report states that it will be on the western shore of Bimini, and will be 1,000 feet long with a four-and-a-half acre connecting island where passengers will disembark.

An environmental impact assessment prepared by Resorts World consultant Kirk Lofgren of Miami says workers will have to dredge 220,000 cubic yards of sea bottom to a depth of 31 feet, with the dredged material being used to construct the island.  The entire pier project is set for a December completion, The Miami Herald reports, providing information that has yet to be made available to the local media.

In statements issued to Bahamian media, Resorts World Bimini has earlier stated that it is committed to “sustainable development” for the 8.8-square-mile island, where it is spending $300 million to bring onstream an additional 350 hotel rooms that will be added to its inventory of around 830 hotel rooms to date.

It has suggested that the pier will be an economic boom to the island, as it will allow the thousands of passengers ferried to the island from Florida each day to spend more time and money in the local community than they have been able to since the launch of the ferry service in July, given that passengers must presently disembark the ship at a distance from Bimini and be brought to the island by smaller tenders.

In the last week, Resorts World Bimini has ramped up its public relations efforts.  On Friday, the company highlighted a donation of five computers to the North Bimini Community Center in Alice Town, one of what it said will be “a number of community initiatives” it will undertake in the coming year.

And on the same day, it was announced that Resorts World Bimini has “paid more than $600,000 to Bimini vendors in the past year” for goods and services ranging from entertainment, to housing, food and beverage, transportation and event coordination.

Meanwhile, in Parliament, Labour Minister Shane Gibson touted oncoming hirings at the resort, noting that it intends to employ 300 people by mid-December.

The Malaysian conglomerate, the Genting Group, acquired the Bimini Bay Resort and rechristened it Resorts World Bimini in March 2013.

Since then, the company announced plans to undertake a $300 million expansion of the resort within three years, in plans which include two luxury hotels, 50 villas and a golf course.

Messages left for Obie Wilchcombe, minister of tourism and MP for Bimini, and Minister of the Environment Kenred Dorsett seeking comment were not returned up to press time.

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