Abaco developer under attack: ‘We have approvals’
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Oct 22, 2013
An Abaco developer hoping to build a boutique hotel and other amenities on Treasure Cay beach has defended himself from attacks from the Bahamas National Trust and local community leaders over concerns that damaging dredging activity is being done without appropriate approvals.
Tim Blakely, vice president of the Treasure Sands Club, told Guardian Business that the development company, which currently owns and operates a high-end restaurant in Treasure Cay, is to undertake will change the fortunes of the area, which he described as “desperate for development” and operating at below its potential.
And he asserted his company has been granted “full government approval” from the central government for all development-related work, and has fulfilled all demands that were made of the company in this regard.
In relation to the controversial work in a creek, Blakely said the requirements in this respect extended to an environmental management plan, but not an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
Blakely confirmed the Treasure Sands Club is seeking to construct dockage for boats to enter the creek area and access its facilities.
His comments come as Treasure Cay Town Committee member and former Chief Councillor Steve Pedican told Guardian Business that he is concerned that the Treasure Sands Club is expanding its facilities into nearby mangrove creeks without having first done all that is necessary to assure the local community and the government that any environmental impact will be mitigated.
Pedican’s concerns have been backed by Bahamas National Trust Executive Director Eric Carey, who told Guardian Business that he views the dredging as “an assault” on the environment that is taking place without adequate environmental mitigation measures in place.
Carey added that a “cease and desist” recommendation was made by the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission (BEST) in relation to the dredging.
“It does not appear that they have permits. Our staff on the ground has been inundated with calls and our official response was that we have brought this to the attention of the BEST Commission, and I spoke personally with (the director, Phillip) Weech, who advises they are aware of it and they have issued a cease and desist order.
“I would like to see that an EIA has been completed. There are no siltation curtains; there is total and absolute turbidity flowing into the mangroves. Even a lay environmentalist would determine the procedures they are using are not of the highest standard. Certainly the BEST Commission would know that this is not the standard in 2013 that any project should use in The Bahamas,” claimed Carey.
He added that given that such a recommendation was made by BEST, and the dredging has continued, he is left to “wonder if no law applies”.
However, Blakely told Guardian Business that his business had been turned into a political “pawn”, and all approvals have been received from the central government for dredging and related development activity that is now underway.
Blakely added that if any “cease and desist” order has been issued, he has yet to have been informed.
Environmental management plan
The British executive said that the company has retained the services of a certified environmental engineer, Keith Bishop, of Islands By Design, who has undertaken studies and provided the company with the environmental management plan that was requested by the government as a requirement to receive the approval that they have now obtained.
Defending the development activity, Blakely said that despite its enormous potential, Treasure Cay has become stagnant and lacking in activities for tourists, and it is the Treasure Sands Club’s plans to put in place infrastructure that will “give people something to do” and enable a 12-room hotel the company has obtained approval to build on the beach to be successful.
The full scope of the company’s plans for the area include rental cottages near the creek, where boats will be able to dock, as well as shops and activities such as tennis, volleyball and paddle boarding.
With this “hub of activity” in place, the company aims to construct its hotel “as soon as possible”, enabling it to provide accommodation as well as its current restaurant offering.
Blakely suggested that those who are complaining may be politically motivated, and he has received a lot of support for the company’s plans, which he said will create jobs and much-needed economic stimulus.
He added that the last thing the company would want is to destroy the environment, as it considers this Treasure Cay’s most valuable asset when it comes to attracting tourists.
“We think The Bahamas is an absolutely amazing country. It’s beautiful. We’re certainly not about destruction, we’re about capitalizing on the amazing resources The Bahamas has.”
However, Pedican told Guardian Business his concern is that standard procedures appear not to have been followed with respect to the development, as the Town Committee for the area was bypassed and not consulted with respect to the activity.
“Residents in Treasure Cay were concerned that no one from the BEST Commission was here and made a report to say if the dredging would be harmful to marine life or bird life and all the rest of the life that is in the mangroves there.
“It seems to me that it was a rush to judgment on behalf of the government to allow this to go on without consultation with local government here in the North. They are talking about the amount of jobs, but that’s putting the cart before the horse.
“Let’s do the due diligence and make sure the work being done is not being done to the detriment of lobsters, turtles and fish that multiply and mature in the creek.”
Pedican claimed he is not necessarily against the development, but the way it has been handled, suggesting that it “flies in the face of what local government is about”.
While Blakely and his team may have received “approvals” to go ahead from the government, working closely with local MP Renardo Curry to obtain them, according to Blakely and Pedican, the latter suggested that necessary permits to complement this approval were subsequently not yet provided. He claimed that this was recently confirmed to him by Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle, however Rolle could not be reached for comment on this claim yesterday.
‘Sky is the limit’
Blakely said he understands how the manner in which the resort obtained the approval, which he says permits it to proceed, could “ruffle feathers” locally, but suggested that if developers had to seek local government approval for all activity, conflicts of interest could stymie beneficial development.
“I think that to a certain extent that may have been the case,” said Blakely, in response to the suggestion that the approval process bypassed local government, adding: “I also think the system doesn’t work. As a foreign investor, you go to the Office of The Prime Minister [to seek approvals], and maybe there is no consultation between the Office of The Prime Minister and the local government. I can see how that would ruffle feathers for sure.
“But you’ve got to look at the other side in terms of the tourism business; quite often the local government is involved in certain businesses locally, so if the central government didn’t take charge, they’d block everything.”
Blakely said that the Treasure Sands Club has purchased an additional 10 acres of property adjacent to its current development, and sees the “sky as the limit” for its development opportunities in the area.
In August, Treasure Sands Club constructed a dock over the Treasure Cay beach, becoming the first company among many that have applied for such an approval to gain the chance to do so.