Archive | October, 2013

Mega-resort, cruise terminal report released – Community Leaders, Experts ‘Shocked’ Over Damage Potential Revealed in Bimini EIA

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Community leaders are expressing shock and disbelief at the findings of a long-awaited Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for a controversial mega development on Bimini.

The 190-page document, revealed to the media last week, came after Resorts World Bimini, led by Asian Conglomerate Genting Group, had already begun work on a 1,000-foot pier for its cruise ship terminal.
Approvals for construction have also remained a point of controversy, as cabinet ministers released confusing and at times contradictory statements.

EARTHCARE, a non-profit organization founded on Grand Bahama in 1988, said the EIA’s findings only confirm how successive governments continue to “tear the heart” out of Bimini by letting more than 160 acres of healthy mangrove stands be bulldozed, while a marine nursery in North Sound HAS BEEN dredged to create “cheap fill” for the developer. “Now they want to further eviscerate Bimini by taking her endangered coral reefs as well,” said Gail Woon, marine biologist and the founder of EARTHCARE. “It is unnecessary and if allowed will be a complete abomination.”

Joseph Darville, a director of the rapidly expanding environmental movement Save the Bays, said that the report left him “literally sick”. He noted the “extraordinary hazards” associated with the project and the lack of consultation among locals on Bimini.

Both experts highlighted a number of troubling findings in the report.
Potential impacts to commercially important species “are expected to be high”, according to the EIA, through the disturbance of habitats for spiny lobster, conch, grouper and other marine species. Water quality is expected to take a major hit, which would also considerably hurt the marine ecosystem.
Environment aside, the report went so far as to suggest the proposed ferry terminal is “incompatible with the existing and future and uses of the remainder of North Bimini”.
Resorts World Bimini has pursued up to 1,500 visitor arrivals each day from nearby Florida once the cruise ship terminal is completed, fueling the development’s hotels, casino and second-home market. “The number of visitors intended for Bimini is also greater than that appropriate for the ecological and socioeconomic carryon capacity of Bimini Island,” the report stated. “The negative impacts ecologically will be extremely high with the high pressure that will be exerted into the local natural resources.” More than a dozen well-known diving sites were identified as being threatened and in close proximity to construction.

The findings of the EIA, prepared by Nassau-based Blue Engineering and including several external expert analyses, came after weeks of confusion and frustration towards government officials on the existence of a report.

Earlier this month, Romi Ferreira, a leading environmental lawyer and consultant, noted how the document “was never intended to be a secret”. He demanded that the Bahamas Environment, Science & Technology Commission make the EIA public.

“As a matter of fact, one of the rules for the environmental impact assessment, rule seven, mandates that those documents be shared with stakeholders. And we are asking ourselves: what is the rush? We see developments going on, we read the newspaper that there were no permits,” he said. “What is the rush? What kind of precedent are we setting?”

Ferreira is just one of many community advocates pushing for a Freedom of Information Act and an Environmental Protection Act. These pieces of legislation are seen as significant steps to ensuring responsible development for the future.

Nearly 5,000 people have signed a Save the Bays petition (www.savethebays.bs) urging passage of these laws and the organisation’s Facebook page has gained thousands of friends and fans while its Youtube posts are gaining traction. Ferreira urged the government to stay committed to public disclosure and uphold standard international practices.

Attorneys Instructed to Mount Legal Fight Over Bimini Development, Will File Judicial Review

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Sparked by the latest twist in the ongoing saga over a cruise ship terminal and offshore island planned for Bimini after news of construction permits appeared in the Miami Herald before local residents and environmentalists who had been begging for information had been informed, attorneys for two conservation groups said today they have been instructed to file legal action.

“The level of contempt being shown for local Bahamians continues to shock me,” said Fred Smith, QC. “It is unbelievable that the public in South Florida should be told about grant of a construction permit for the 1,000-foot pier and 4.5-acre island before it is made public in Bimini or the rest of The Bahamas.”

Smith, who serves as a director of the fast-growing environmental movement Save The Bays, pointed to numerous attempts to get information on plans for North Bimini and to obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment, including an effort by the usually conservative Bahamas National Trust which expressed “grave concern” about the environmental costs of the planned development. Bimini with a population of about 1,600 became the focal point of the swirling debate about anchor projects and large developments on small islands when the Malaysian-based Genting Group purchased land from Bimini Bay developers to build a resort complex that would eventually include two hotels, a casino and cruise ship terminal, a plan that would alter the quiet, laid-back lifestyle associated with the island in the northern Bahamas just 60 miles from South Florida. The casino opened in May with a super fast ferry zipping passengers from Miami to its tables and sports book and returning the same day for less than $100. Several taxi drivers and boat captains said the ferry and the concentration of visitors at the casino instead of being widely distributed throughout North and South Bimini has caused them to lose business. But the government has continually said the new development will create jobs during economically challenging times and most recently announced a planned 300 jobs.

A number of local residents who belong to Bimini Blue Coalition, another non-profit organisation, have begged for information and urged publication of an environmental impact assessment, saying the public must be given an opportunity to comment prior to approval. But many in Bimini have said that the promise of future jobs is not compensating for the fares and business they are losing or the lack of visitors flying in who might rent a car or eat a meal in a local place outside the casino area or what could happen to fragile coral reefs in the path of the pier and cruise ship traffic. Now, Mr. Smith said, he and another lawyer who specializes in environmental law have been instructed on both organisations’ behalf to file a judicial review and seek an injunction, halting activity at the controversial site until the court can review the process and procedures that led to alleged approvals or to the start of construction without permits, an act that was voluntarily halted by the developer after attention was brought to it.

Joe Darville & Al Sweeting on beach

“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 have been properly permitted,” said Mr. Smith. He compared what is happening in Bimini with large scale developments in Guana Cay, Abaco and Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama where “man-made fairy tale” cruise ports were unsustainable and the islands were left with what he called white elephants. “We are also making enquiries as to whether or not the provisions of the Planning and Subdivison Act have been complied with, “ said Mr. Smith

“The model of overnight creation, instant landscaping, instant development doesn’t work in the Family Islands,” he said. “Creating overnight development sensations is a misconceived, misconstrued, misinformed and socially, culturally and environmentally catastrophic policy which does not work for the Family Islands that need small environmentally sustainable communities and projects that are organic and proportionate.”

According to spokesmen for both groups, passage of a Freedom of Information Act that would force information to be made public before decisions are made and an Environmental Protection Act would ensure that local residents would have a say in plans affecting their communities before approvals or permits are given and would guarantee better environmental preservation. Save The Bays said its online petition urging passage of both pieces of legislation at www.savethebays.bs is gaining signatures daily.

Respected educator and human rights advocate to head Bimini chapter of marine environment watch group Bahamas Waterkeeper

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NASSAU, Bahamas — Less than six months after The Bahamas was certified for official Waterkeeper status, the organisation known as the watchdog of the world’s waters announced today the first Bahamas Waterkeeper was going live with respected educator and outspoken human rights advocate Joseph Darville at the helm.

Darville, a Long Island native, former teacher and principal, will head the Bimini chapter of Bahamas Waterkeeper.

The timing, he said, was critical as “the beauty of the waters, the fragile coral reefs teeming with tropical fish — the very treasure that has been part of the romance and magic of Bimini are being threatened by development and no one has been able to put their hands on an Environmental Impact Assessment. This cannot be allowed to continue in this country with the people of an island being kept in the dark about developments that affect their lives.”

With the power and strength of an international organisation like Waterkeeper behind them, Darville said he and other environmentalists, including groups like Bimini Blue Coalition and Earthcare, would have a far greater voice in calling for environmental accountability.

Darville is among those who have begged for more information and for environmental protection as a result of the expansion of the former Bimini Bay Resort, now operated by the Genting Group as Resorts World Bimini. The redevelopment includes a casino which opened in July and calls for plans for a 300-room hotel.

Last week, Resorts World Bimini it announced it was going ahead with a 1,000-foot pier to accommodate passengers brought in from Florida daily aboard the Bimini Superfast, a ferry that zips between Miami and Bimini for as little as $59, delivering those who want to gamble to the country’s newest gaming facility. Resorts World Bimini has said it hopes to bring in up to 400,000 persons a year to the resort. The two islands that make up Bimini, North Bimini and South Bimini, have a total population of about 1,600.

Announcement of the Bimini  Waterkeeper launch was made at a press conference at the offices of Ferreira & Co., environmental attorneys, Nassau. Darville spoke passionately about the effort to preserve the environment.

“We, this country, this land, this Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” he said, “are the enviable prize of the world, and the prey of the world’s largest and most economically vicious predators. A piece of our sacred heritage is the closest some of them will ever come to heaven on earth.  We are rapidly becoming the spoils of a quiet (too quiet) and subtle (much too subtle) bargaining and bartering of our heritage patrimony of land, sea, sand, coastlines and sea beds. This rabid and rapid dispossession has taken place right under our eyes which have been half closed, and at times fully shut.

“What our organizations, Save The Bays and the Waterkeeper Alliance, desire is very simple and attainable: to establish a symbiotic relationship between industry and other major developments without negativity and significantly impacting our delicate eco-system – our land, our sea, seabed, beaches, coral reefs, sand, marshes and mangroves, our bays and our undervalued wetlands,” said Ferreira, director of Save The Bays and leading counsel and consultation for the alliance. “We’re concerned that unregulated development will result in the deterioration of reef quality and we’re not going to sit by and let something like this happen when it’s in our power to affect change.”

The Bimini chapter today became the newest in a network of hundreds of Waterkeepers in 37 countries united under Waterkeeper Alliance. In April, Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was in Nassau to announce the launch of Bahamas Waterkeeper. At that time, he and other divers explored Clifton Bay off New Providence’s southwestern coast and said that in 13 years since he last dove the area some 70-80% of the coral was threatened, in part by algae and contamination from oil seepage and spills from the bay area where both BEC and the fuel companies that serve New Providence store and move oil.  Now, the fear is that what happened to Clifton Bay’s marine environment could happen to Bimini’s. But, Kennedy has said, the ability to rescue, restore and preserve is always present.

“The vision of Waterkeeper Alliance is to ensure that water, all our water everywhere, is drinkable, swimmable, fishable. You have an incredible opportunity here in The Bahamas to protect what belongs to the Bahamian people and is enjoyed by your visitors and we hope that this partnership will be the first in an ongoing relationship,” said Kennedy, a man whose passion about the environment has earned him the respect of publications like Time magazine which called him “one of the heroes of the planet.”

At the initial launch, environmentalist and human rights attorney Fred Smith, QC, managing partner of Callenders & Co., Grand Bahama, who participated in the exploratory dive echoed Kennedy’s findings — and predicted then that the fight to save the marine environment of The Bahamas would take Waterkeeper throughout the nation.

“Clifton Bay is an important place to begin because of the quality of the reefs and the extent of the visitor and local interest,” he said. “We will save Clifton Bay, then move to Bimini Bay, Baker’s Bay, Dean’s Blue Hole, Freeport Harbour. It’s our goal to save all the bays. We have started locally. We are going national and with the Waterkeeper Alliance we will be international. We also have to call on government to do what government promises it will do to protect the environment. It does not matter which government. What matters is that we save this, our Bahamian environment.”

Waterkeeper Alliance chapters across the globe depend upon volunteers with local knowledge who go out on boats, snorkel and dive, to monitor and report activities that affect oceans, rivers, lakes, canals and wetlands. The movement started as the Hudson Riverkeeper and its success, led by Kennedy, Jr., transforming the industrially-polluted brown, pungent water into a river with waters that were swimmable, fishable and drinkable gave birth to the international movement. Much of Kennedy’s team’s success lay in filing and winning lawsuits, holding polluters accountable and forcing clean-up programs and better practices.

NFWF Honors New Jersey Gov. Christie and Conservationist Louis Bacon

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and leading conservationist Louis Bacon were honored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) at its 10th annual “Celebrating the Great Outdoors” benefit September 28 in Connecticut.

They were awarded the Chairman’s Leadership Award, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s highest accolade, which recognizes significant conservation leadership. Previous recipients include Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Tom Brokaw, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Harrison Ford, Paul Volcker, The Honorable Ken Salazar, Ken Hofmann, Julie Packard, Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. and Family, James C. Morgan and Bob Fisher.

Both men were selected for their ongoing efforts to preserve and protect threatened landscapes that provide essential wildlife habitat.

“National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is extremely pleased to recognize the achievements of these two leaders,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.  “They have, and are making significant contributions to the survival of some of our most iconic species, and show an outstanding commitment to conservation action.”

NFWF protects and restores America’s wildlife and habitats and works hand-in-hand with conservation efforts abroad.  Chartered by the US Congress in 1984, NFWF directs public conservation dollars to pressing environmental needs and matches those investments with private contributions.

Honoree Gov. Christie earned national attention for his dedication to rebuild New Jersey’s battered coast following the devastation by super storm Sandy in October 2012.  The storm was particularly catastrophic in the United States’ mid-Atlantic, with loss of life, destruction of property and infrastructure, and widespread ecological damage.

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Honoree Louis Bacon was honored by NFWF for his conservation accomplishments spanning more than two decades.  For more than 20 years Bacon’s Moore Charitable Foundation has supported more than 200 nonprofit organizations focusing on land and water conservation, including NFWF.

Paul Tudor Jones said when introducing the evening’s honoree, “Louis Bacon has always known that the most we can ever do is be a worthy steward of the land for ourselves and future generations.  I have known Louis Bacon for decades.  Quite simply, Louis Bacon is one of the best friends the conservation movement has ever had.”

Bacon, through his Moore Charitable Foundation, has been a long-standing partner of NFWF’s Long Island Sound Bird Conservation Program. That program focuses on preserving critical habitat along the Atlantic Flyway, protecting species like the Piping Plover and Least Tern which summer on those beaches and winter in The Bahamas.

The Moore Charitable Foundation and more recently, its Bahamas affiliate, The Moore Bahamas Foundation, have made significant contributions not only to conservation but also to learn to swim, scholarship, education, medical, and historic organizations in the Bahamas.  In 2013, The Moore Bahamas Foundation sponsored innovative conservation positions at Bahamas National Trust and BREEF. It is currently supporting BNT’s ‘Conchservation’ coordinator who is working to preserve conch populations — the pride of Bahamian culinary culture.  Through a grant to the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF), the organization is able to increase summer programs for teachers and students with “in-the-classroom” and “in-the-water experiences,” building greater awareness of the importance of fragile coral reefs and the marine life that depends upon their survival.  The Moore Bahamas Foundation recently sponsored a forum focused on protection of Nassau grouper with BNT and noted marine biologist and underwater artist Dr. Guy Harvey.

The annual benefit event included dignitaries such as former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the 2011 honoree of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and true to its style, the conservation celebrities dressed the part — in blue jeans.

 

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