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‘Grave’ concerns over Bimini terminal permit

EIA notes 11-fold visitor increase, but ‘direct loss’ of marine habitat and Biminite fears of ferry service ‘viability’
  • This image represents the “ferry terminal master plan” and is included in the executive summary of the North Bimini Ferry Terminal Project EIA.

ALISON LOWE
Guardian Business Editor
alison@nasguard.com

Published: Oct 23, 2013

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An executive summary of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the proposed ferry terminal and 4.5 acre offshore island being constructed by Resorts World Bimini suggests that the ferry service will bring an additional 570,000 tourists to Bimini each year, an increase of 11 times the current number of visitors, which will “boost the local economy and employment”.

However, the EIA summary adds that the dredging and new island will “create a direct loss of low-relief marine habitat including algae, sponges and a low density of corals”.

And it found that a polling of 50 local Biminites indicates that while many felt the project would create an “economic benefit”, they also feared its impact on the marine

environment and fisheries, disruptions, “inconvenience and behavior” and the overall viability of the ferry service that the pier is intended to accommodate.

The executive summary of the “North Bimini Ferry Terminal Project” EIA has been obtained by Guardian Business a day after Resorts World Bimini confirmed it has been granted construction permits for the pier in the absence of the public dissemination of the EIA related to the project.  The government has declined to authorize the release of the EIA by the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology (BEST) Commission to date.

It has been prepared by Resorts World Bimini consultant Kirk Lofgren, of Ocean Consulting, a Miami, Florida-based environmental consultancy.

Highlighting the fact that the pier will be located within 1.5 miles of fourteen known reef dive spots, of which the closest is 700 feet and the farthest, 1,500 feet away, the EIA summary suggests “monitoring to maintain the excellent diving options in Bimini adjacent to the site.”

Elsewhere, it adds that it will be necessary to “install artificial reef as mitigation” for the impact on the reef, and to conduct monitoring “once every five years”.

 

“Gravely concerned”

The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) said yesterday that it continues to be “gravely concerned” about construction of the jetty and offshore structures near to coral reefs.

“The proposal to locate the artificial island atop a portion of a live reef is especially troublesome,” said the organization in a release issued in response to news that Resorts World Bimini has received its construction permit for the project.

While recognizing the “importance of the overall investment, BNT said it is of the view that the proposed location for the jetty, artificial island and extensive dredging, in close proximity to so many key dive sites, is “incompatible with sound environmental policy and practice and if approved will likely cause irreparable and continuing damage to the marine environment of Bimini”.

The BNT, which was calling for a copy of the EIA to review prior to the granting of a construction permit to the company, also confirmed in the statement released yesterday that it received a copy of the EIA.

However, it stated that the document was “incomplete”, lacking appendices and an environmental management plan which would be needed for a full assessment, and the organization has not been able to do its own review or confirm that the government has done a “full comprehensive review” of the EIA prior to permits being granted.

“The BNT requested the additional documents (which have since been received) and has begun a review of the EIA as provided by Resorts World Bimini, but the trust continues to be concerned that the EIA has not been made available to the public and there hasn’t been any public consultation within the community on the proposed jetty.”

Freeport attorney Fred Smith, a director with Save The Bays, an environmental organization that has committed itself to protecting the Bahamian marine environment, said yesterday that the decision to grant the permit before a public release of the EIA leaves him “shocked at the level of contempt that the government and foreign developers have for local Bahamians.”

He added that the fact the granting of the permit was first made known in a U.S. newspaper, The Miami Herald, is particularly egregious, and suggested that a judicial review action continues to be a possibility with respect to the resort.

“It is unbelievable that the public in South Florida should be told about the granting of a construction permit for the 1,000-foot pier and 4.5 acre island before it is made public either in Bimini or the rest of The Bahamas.

“This just goes to show how the PLP government considers Bahamians to be worthless and to be kept in splendid ignorance.  This lack of consultation and failure to inform the Biminites demonstrates the need for a Freedom of Information Act and an Environmental Protection Act.  I ask the question whether the necessary process and permitting occurred under the Planning and Subdivision Act which has very stringent and demanded provisions to be complied with for consultation, public meetings, conduct of an environmental impact assessment process and input from affected parties.

 

Judicial review

“I can confirm that Save The Bays as well as Bimini Blue Coalition are instructing attorneys to mount a judicial review action to quash any permits that may have been obtained without due process, and also to require the relevant authorities to take action under the various laws to sanction any activities that may not be permitted.

“We condemn this government for its desecration at the altar of the almighty dollar the culture, heritage, sea and land environment.”

Smith compared the situation to other cases such as Baker’s Bay in Guana Cay, Abaco, suggesting that in both cases the government was “seduced by foreign developers and the jingle of money” and are “hypnotized into giving away The Bahamas”.

“Creating overnight development sensations is a misconceived, misinformed, and socially, culturally, and environmentally catastrophic policy which is why for many years I have opposed the anchor projects policy of the PLP; it doesn’t work for the communities in the Family Islands.  They need small, environmentally sustainable, organic and proportionate development.”

Gail Woon, president of EARTHCARE, a Freeport-based environmental non-governmental organization, said the proposed jetty and offshore island to accommodate the ferry is “ludicrous and unacceptable”.

“This would never happen in the U.S.  They value their endangered species,” said Woon, referring to the surrounding reefs.

“It seems to be business as usual in Bimini.  There’s a handshake in a boardroom and whoever is at the top tells them what to do.”

The executive summary says the ferry terminal project will include dredging of 220,000 cubic yards of material which will be utilized in the construction of a new 4.5 acre island connected to the shore by a 1,000-foot-long piled pier.

The intention is to provide berthing facilities for “one 650-foot-long vessel” - assumed to be the company’s superfast ferry, which launched in July of this year, as well as “one 300-foot-long mega-yacht and two 200 to 250-foot-long mega-yachts”, a customs and immigration office, a beach club and a turning area for trams.

The summary adds that it is the intention to “construct the facility using sustainable and environmentally-sensitive best management practices that minimize impacts to the environment and local community to the maximum extent practicable while still meeting the project purpose.”

This latest stage of development in 8.8-square-mile Bimini comes after Malaysian conglomerate, the Genting Group, acquired the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina in March of this year.


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