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‘Questionable’ demand for Bimini ferry

Report calls for study to demonstrate viability of service before controversial terminal is constructed
  • The site of the North Bimini ferry terminal which is now being constructed by Resorts World Bimini.

ALISON LOWE
Guardian Business Editor
alison@nasguard.com

Published: Oct 25, 2013

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While revealing that Resorts World Bimini expects to spend $10-$15 million on the construction of a controversial ferry terminal in North Bimini, an official document accompanying the project has called forecast demand for the ferry service “questionable” and urged that a study be undertaken to “ascertain demand at the earliest opportunity”.

The October 4, 2013 addendum to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) prepared for Resorts World Bimini, calls into doubt a proposed ability of the ferry service to increase Bimini’s visitor levels 11-fold in light of “insufficient research” to support this claim to date.

These statements are made in the context of a recognition in the addendum’s conclusion that the project on the whole “has the potential to have a variety of negative effects on Bimini, including adverse impacts on the very aspects of Bimini that make it attractive to visitors as it has been through history”.

As previously reported by Guardian Business, an EIA prepared for Resorts World Bimini has projected that the Resorts World Bimini Superfast Ferry will bring economic benefits to Bimini as well as a number of negative externalities as it ferries a projected 570,000 people from Miami to Bimini on an annual basis.

These figures in the EIA addendum released on the BEST Commission’s website yesterday, arise from the “Economic and Fiscal Impact Analysis” prepared by HVS Convention, Sports and Entertainment Facilities Consulting, and have been used to justify the terminal’s construction.

But according to the newly-released document, prepared by Bahamian firm Blue Engineering, with input from Coastal Systems International and Ocean Consulting Inc., this economic and fiscal impact analysis “does not

indicate how it is that these numbers can be expected or who expects these numbers,

taking no responsibility for such a statement”.

“The report also makes no mention of the research conducted prior to the report,” it concludes, calling for a more in-depth study into demand for the service to be concluded before construction of the ferry terminal, or in its “early stages”.

“The question of demand for the ferry service is whether the impact of the larger, improved ferry service as compared with the current ferry service to Florida, a 10,000-square-foot casino, a marketing budget of approximately $2 million and the Resort World name are adequate to increase the current 52,000 visitors to the island by a factor of 15, or alternatively sufficient passengers that the combined ferry service and Bimini Bay Resort and Casino can be successful, and whether this can be sustained.

“Although the price of the ferry service will be altered to create demand when needed by effectively subsidizing passengers on the ferry, there is a limit to which this can be done in order to be successful.

“We can consider and compare the services provided to Grand Bahama (where there are more facilities for tourists, including a number of casinos, one of which is at least twice the size of the proposed casino) and the current Balearia service in the first instance in order to try to ensure that the ferry service is not a failure (like many ship services in the past and present), thereby impacting the natural environment and putting Bimini’s diving resources at risk.

“As such, we recommend a demand study be carried out by a government approved firm to ascertain the demand for this ferry service at the earliest opportunity, preferably prior to commencing any construction or alternately if necessary in the early stages of construction,” states the addendum.

It is not clear if such a study has been prepared to date. Construction is now underway on the terminal.

On Tuesday, Guardian Business reported that the government has granted a construction permit to Resorts World Bimini to proceed with the construction of a 1,000-foot ferry terminal in North Bimini, in an area which the EIA notes includes 14 “excellent” dive sites and coral reefs.

The company hopes to cut down the time it currently takes to move passengers from the boat to the shore and back in the absence of dockage for the ship a major complaint of many visitors using the service at present.

The government’s approval for the ferry terminal’s construction came prior to the public release of the environmental impact assessment, which the company had made available to the government, and despite comments from organizations such as the Bahamas National Trust indicating that they have “grave concerns” about the development of the ferry terminal and its implications for the surrounding marine environment.

The government has stated that it believes the terminal and the Resorts World Bimini investment will bring long-term economic benefits to the Bimini community, and that any environmental impact will be minimal and mitigated.

The EIA addendum for the North Bimini Ferry Terminal and an environmental management plan were posted on the BEST Commission website yesterday, providing the first full insight for the public including Biminites themselves into what the company has planned for the area and what its potential impact on the marine environment, Bimini community and economy may be.

The documents do not include the original EIA prepared for Resorts World Bimini by Ocean Consulting Inc.

With respect to projected benefits to the Bahamian government from the project, the EIA addendum suggests that the “main direct revenue” to the government will be from ferry entry and departure fees (approximately $17.50 per person, $2.50 entry, $15 departure) totaling $6,300,000.

“There will also be revenue as a result of the ferry terminal from the mega yacht arrivals and departures,” it said.

The document states that the government will receive “no revenues” from real estate taxes, hotel taxes, property taxes or customs and duty taxes arising from the project “due to exemptions granted”.

The addendum concludes with the suggestion that the ultimate impact of the ferry terminal on Bimini itself is dependent on a large number of variables.

“The project on the whole has the potential to have a variety of negative effects on Bimini including adverse impacts on the very aspects of Bimini that make it as attractive to visitors as it has been through history,” it said. “The project also has the potential to have considerable employment and tourism advantages for The Bahamas once all monitoring and mitigation measures are implemented and conducted successfully.”

“The main ecological effects will mainly be dependent on the ability of the contractor to control turbidity, the success of the artificial reefs and the transplanted corals and the monitoring and control of fisheries.

“Infrastructure effects will be dependent on the effectiveness of the implementation of the recycling program and the implementation of the infrastructure enhancement project, which includes improvements to roads, schools and educational facilities, fire services, medical services and an eastern shoreline ferry service.

“The main socio-economic effects will mainly be dependent on Bimini Bay Resort and Casino’s success on a long-term basis. These effects will also be dependent on Bimini Bay Resort and Casino’s ability to share the benefits of the increased tourism fairly with the community and work with the community to ensure that the impacts to Bimini are positive,” it adds.

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