Archive | September, 2014

Conservation Philanthropist Louis Bacon Receives Land Trust Alliance President’s Award

Louis Bacon presented with Land Trust Alliance President’s Award for Conservation Leadership. Pictured l-r – Michael Dowling, Board Chairman, Land Trust Alliance; Louis Bacon, Chairman, The Moore Charitable Foundation and Rand Wentworth, President, Land Trust Alliance.

Louis Bacon presented with Land Trust Alliance President’s Award for Conservation Leadership. Pictured l-r – Michael Dowling, Board Chairman, Land Trust Alliance; Louis Bacon, Chairman, The Moore Charitable Foundation and Rand Wentworth, President, Land Trust Alliance.

Recognition Comes at Nation’s Largest Gathering of Land ConservationLeaders

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Sept. 19, 2014) – Declaring that his “bold actions were inspiring others to protect and steward their lands,” the Land Trust Alliance this week presented one of its highest and rarest honours to philanthropic conservationist Louis Bacon.

Mr. Bacon was presented with Land Trust Alliance President’s Award for Conservation Leadership September 18 in recognition of what the Alliance called his “lifelong passion for land conservation, his accomplishments with The Moore Charitable Foundation, and his move to permanently protect more than 210,000 acres of his own land.” The presentation, made in Providence, R.I., came during the annual conference of the Alliance which represents 1,200 member trusts and five million people who work to save the places people love.

It was only the fourth time in the 22-year-old Land Trust Alliance’s history that the President’s Award for Leadership has been presented.

“Mr. Bacon’s bold actions are inspiring other landowners to protect and steward their lands, encouraging them toprotect America’s natural heritage to create a lasting legacy for generations to come,” said Rand Wentworth, Land Trust Alliance president. “We are immensely grateful to Mr. Bacon for his conservation leadership and thank him forjoining us at Rally 2014 to celebrate the tremendous good his works have yielded.”

Declaring that he was “humbled and honoured” to receive the award, he described the work of his foundation, founded over twenty years ago. “The Moore Charitable Foundation pursues two simple and equally important passions: A love of nature – and the desire to protect it,” Mr. Bacon said. In the Bahamas, The Moore Bahamas Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation, is working to preserve fragile coral reefs and other marine resources in a country where more than 90% of its area is water.

Mr. Bacon described what he called a moral choice in the ownership of lands he has purchased. “To protect these lands forever – or leave them vulnerable to someone who could ruin them forever at a moment’s notice with an irreversible decision” That choice, he noted, has driven him to conserve over 90% of his lands for future generations. He has cleared invasive plants to allow hardwood forests to regenerate, rehabilitated 11,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat, rebuilt embankments to spare a wildfowl sanctuary from threat of being washed away, repaired streams to revitalize trout populations and removed hundreds of miles of barbed wire cattle fencing to open up grasslands for migratory mammals.

Mr. Bacon used the occasion of the largest gathering of land conservation leaders in America to reveal plans to urge other large landowners to practice conservation.

“In the coming months,” he remarked, “we will work with the Alliance to challenge the largest landowners in America to conserve at least 50% of their land holding. It’s my hope that, together with the Alliance, we can dramatically increase the pace of land conservation in America.”

Ann Colley, executive director and vice president of The Moore Charitable Foundation, added: “The Land TrustAlliance conserves some of the most important and treasured resources in America. Louis’ recognition through thePresident’s Award for Conservation Leadership is truly an honor, and it speaks to the important role he playsthroughout the land trust and private landowner communities.”

The award celebrates “an individual whose leadership has enriched the land conservation movement and whosecontributions encourage commitment and action throughout the land trust community and private landownercommunity.”

Save The Bays, Bahamas Waterkeeper Applaud Mitchell’s Comments to UN on Preserving Bahamas Marine Environment

Save The Bays applauds government’s pledge to preserve 20% of the marine environment by the year 2020, protecting resources like these photographed off north Bimini in an area designated to become the North Bimini Marine Reserve, but potentially threatened by construction of a golf course. The announcement to expand marine protected areas was made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell during remarks to the United Nations this week.

Save The Bays applauds government’s pledge to preserve 20% of the marine environment by the year 2020, protecting resources like these photographed off north Bimini in an area designated to become the North Bimini Marine Reserve, but potentially threatened by construction of a golf course. The announcement to expand marine protected areas was made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell during remarks to the United Nations this week.

Save The Bays, the fast-growing environmental movement dedicated to the protection of marine resources, joined forces today with Bahamas Waterkeeper to praise Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell for remarks to the United Nations detailing what leaders of the two organizations called “the most important, powerful commitment yet by the current government to preserve that which makes The Bahamas the magical country it is — our waters.”

The plaudits came within minutes of the release of Mitchell’s words that included a statement indicating government would push for 20% of the vast geographical area of the country to become part of a network of marine protected areas by the year 2020.

“The 20% by 2020 is an ambitious target that has been adopted by environmental groups and many who depend on the oceans for their survival, including Disney cruise lines, but this is the first time that the government of The Bahamas has publicly stated that it is committed to expand marine protected areas covering up to 20,000 square miles and we want to offer congratulations and 100% support,” said Joseph Darville, who serves as a director of Save The Bays and is the Bahamas Waterkeeper.

The push for adding marine protected areas is not new. The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust, both community partners of Save The Bays, have long urged the expansion of such areas, noting protected areas have been proven to lead to greater fish, conch and crawfish stocks, opens doors for jobs and eco-friendly businesses and improves health of nearby communities.

The positive reaction followed Mitchell’s hard-hitting, specific three-minute address that touched on a wide range of subjects involving the waters that constitute 90% of the country’s make-up — international accountability and cooperation, sports fishing, the battle against invasive species, the Bahamas’ progressive role in shark and sea turtle protection and ultimately, The Bahamas’ vulnerability to the rise in sea level and the impact of climate change.

“We have one of the first established marine protected areas in the Western Hemisphere in what we consider the most beautiful place on earth: the Exumas,” Mitchell said. “It has existed since 1958 and its no-catch zone is under the superintendence of the Bahamas National Trust. It has been scientifically proven as a fisheries replenishment area.

“We have set aside other marine parks and ‘no take areas’ to sustain our fisheries. We are expanding the marine protected area network to 20 percent by 2020.” It was those words that triggered the instant buzz. More than a dozen sites have been suggested for marine protected areas in The Bahamas and only days before Mitchell’s remarks Save The Bays urged the government to act on the one it believes is most critical – the North Bimini Marine Reserve, home to giant sea turtles, mangroves and coral reefs, a microcosm in one spot of the underwater habitats found in various places around a country that stretches over 500 miles in length and 100,000 square miles of open ocean. That North Bimini area with its underwater treasure trove of natural gems, environmentalists fear, could be lost to the construction of a golf course as part of the expanding Resorts World Bimini development.

“We agree with the Minister completely when he says the sea is the lifeblood of The Bahamas and we are thrilled that the government has made this public commitment to protect it,” said Darville.

Launched in April 2013, Save The Bays has topped more than 17,100 Facebook Likes and amassed nearly 6,000 signatures on a petition calling for an Environmental Protection Act and a Freedom of Information Act among other provisions. That petition is available at www.savethebays.bs.

PM Urged to Officially Announce Bimini Reserve

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister V. Alfred Gray’s claimed conservationists have yet to decide on the boundaries for the North Bimini Marine Reserve. In fact, its parameters have long been agreed, with requests for a slight expansion ignored by the Christie Administration. Calling for immediate action, stakeholders insist the ball is now firmly in the government’s court.

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister V. Alfred Gray’s claimed conservationists have yet to decide on the boundaries for the North Bimini Marine Reserve. In fact, its parameters have long been agreed, with requests for a slight expansion ignored by the Christie Administration. Calling for immediate action, stakeholders insist the ball is now firmly in the government’s court.

Save The Bays calls on government to take action followinglocal councils appeal for the islands unique marine ecosystem to be protected

 

Nassau, Bahamas – Environmental advocate Lindsey McCoy has called on government to immediately announce the establishment of the North Bimini Marine Reserve (NMBR) to protect that island’s unique ecological heritage.

Noting that more than two months have passed since Bimini’s local council sent a letter asking the Christie administration to honor this longstanding promise, McCoy said there has been no response amid growing fears that the island’s sensitive mangrove forests may be under threat from development.

“A recently released image showing a golf course located within the NBMR boundaries has caused serious concern among Biminites,” McCoy said. “This is an area of unparalleled ecological importance, the mangroves providing a nursery for the marine life throughout the northern Bahamas.

“It must be protected at all costs, and I call on the Prime Minister to respond to the council and immediately grant their requests.

In the letter, the council asked that the Christie administration commit to ensuring developers do not construct a golf course on the island, prevent any further development on the northern tip of North Bimini, and move swiftly to establish the NBMR.

It added: “It has become commonplace that major developments occur on our island without notice to its residents or to this elected council. We therefore respectfully ask that you respond to these requests as quickly as possible.”

McCoy, CEO of fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays, added that the government’s failure to respond to the local council has only added to the fears of Biminites – particularly as the reserve has had formal approval since 2008, and only needs to be officially gazetted.

The NMBR is one of several proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that conservationists want to see established in The Bahamas. An MPA is an area where human activity is placed under clearly defined restrictions in order to protect the marine or terrestrial environment, and often any cultural or historical resources that that may exist within its boundaries.

The golf course in question was among the original plans for Resorts World Bimini’s (RWB) controversial hotel and casino development which conservationists say has already caused extensive damage to the island’s renowned reef system, including many of the top dive sites in the region.

Despite RWB’s insistence that the golf course is now off the table, McCoy said the pattern of frequently changing plans has left many skeptical and in need of official assurance.

As for the claim by Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray that the government is only waiting for conservationists to decide on the boundaries of the NBMR, McCoy pointed out that its proposed parameters have long been established.

McCoy said the ball is now in the government’s court – and a continued delay will be interpreted as a sign that the Christie administration is not serious about preserving the country’s priceless environmental resources for future generations of Bahamians.

In addition to STB and other local advocacy groups, the importance of the NBMR has been recognized by high-profile international conservation agencies including the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the global Waterkeeper Alliance and The Nature Conservancy, which said it has been working with government on the issue and will continue to support all efforts to make the reserve a reality.

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. What began as a grassroots environmental awareness campaign quickly mushroomed to cover a variety of civic and social justice concerns and grievances as other advocacy groups flocked to STB’s banner.

 

The movement now has more than 500 registered members, the largest Facebook audience of any Bahamian NGO with 17,000 followers and more than 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for an Environmental Protection Act, a Freedom of Information Act and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.

 

STB membership is free. To learn more or sign the petition, visit: http://www.savethebays.bs

 

Background: North Bimini Marine Reserve

 

• An MPA for Bimini has been under discussion since 1982, when a letter from the Bahamas Diving Association to government noted the growing popularity of diving and fishing in the area, and pointed to the need to preserve the island’s marine resources in order to maintain these industries over the long term.

 

• In 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources proposed the creation of a nationwide network of MPAs covering 20% of Bahamian waters.

• At the time, North Bimini was listed at the highest priority site in the country, and was one of the first five MPAs slated for creation.

• Over the next several years, extensive meetings were held with local fishermen and stakeholders to decide the rules, regulations and boundaries that would best maintain Bimini’s existing fisheries and tourism product.

 

• On December 29, 2008, the North Bimini Marine Reserve was officially declared by then Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Larry Cartwright.

 

• In January 2009, at a town meeting to discuss the MPA and the findings of the recently finished Black & Veatch report which summarized the past and current scope of the then Bimini Bay Project, Phillip Weech from the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology (BEST) Commission, announced to Biminites that the NBMR had been officially declared.

 

• During that meeting, it was clearly stated that a golf course would not be allowed on Bimini.

• In 2012, letters were sent to the newly-elected Christie administration requesting a slight expansion of the earlier boundaries of the NBMR, along with scientific justification for the changes.

• There was no response, and in a June 2012 meeting, Bimini MP Obie Wilchcombe told stakeholders he had “never heard” of the NBMR, but promised to make inquiries and respond within 30 days.

• Wilchcombe failed to do so, and did not respond to numerous attempts by conservationists to contact him. Five months later, he suggested stakeholders talk to Minister of the Environment Kenred Dorsett.

• Since then, many dozens of emails and letters have been sent to ministers Wilchcombe, Dorsett and Gray concerning the NBMR, yet no substantive response has been forthcoming.

• During this time, the golf course resurfaced, this time on the RWB website. The company has since removed it, but it recently appeared on an image of the development circulated by real estate agencies.

 

Help Save The Bays and Get a Free Shirt!

STB-avail-shirts (1)

When you donate $50 or more to Save The Bays, we’ll send you a free shirt for joining the fight of our generation.  Visit this link to make a donation, and be sure to include your email address when you donate so that we can contact you about sending your free shirt!

Darville takes part in historic NYC climate change march

Save The Bays education director Joseph Darville is also the Bahamas representative for the global Waterkeepers Alliance, which monitors and seeks to preserve water safety and quality around the world. He has been invited by the Waterkeepers to join their international delegation to the People’s Climate March in New York City this weekend.  Pictured (left to right) are Joe Darville, Save The Bays Education Director and Robert Kennedy, President of Waterkeeper Alliance.

Save The Bays education director Joseph Darville is also the Bahamas representative for the global Waterkeepers Alliance, which monitors and seeks to preserve water safety and quality around the world. He has been invited by the Waterkeepers to join their international delegation to the People’s Climate March in New York City this weekend. Pictured (left to right) are Joe Darville, Save The Bays Education Director and Robert Kennedy, President of Waterkeeper Alliance.

Veteran educator and Save The Bays director will represent the Bahamas branch of the global Waterkeepers Alliance at largest ever event of its kind

 

Joseph Darville, education director of the fast-growing social and environmental advocacy movement Save The Bays, has been invited to represent The Bahamas at a historic stand against the dire threat that climate change poses to the future of the planet.

The People’s Climate March will take place this Sunday, when masses of earth’s citizens are expected to gather more than 2,000 events around the world to call for climate change to be reversed for the sake of future generations.

“The Commonwealth of The Bahamas, an oceanic-archipelagic nation, covering an area of over 100,000 square miles, is of critical importance in the urgent mission of climate change,” said Darville.

“As goes the health of the ocean, so goes that of the Mother Earth. Our waters and marine life are still some of the most pristine on the globe. However, in recent times and rapidly increasing, the invasion of mega and unregulated developments along our sea coasts and over the waters, are the harbingers of massive destruction to this ecosystem. Significant and irreparable damage has already been done.”

Darville will join those marching to the epicenter of the stand – United Nations Headquarters in New York, where world leaders are taking part in a landmark climate summit. With 100,000 marchers expected to turn up at that event alone, the aim is to demonstrate to political leaders that climate change is not just a concern for scientists and researchers, but also the public at large.

Darville, a veteran educator and longtime social advocate, said it is urgent that the people of The Bahamas have a representative present to give voice to their concerns, as this country’s elected officials seem to be uninterested in doing so.

“Unfortunately, our national leaders are either ignorant, or just plain indifferent to the imminent threat and total destruction of the wealth of this nation which lies within the cradle of our ocean,” Darville said.

“These waters are majestic and they have been entrusted to us as stewards to pass them on to future generations into perpetuity. This land and sea form our sacred heritage patrimony and it behooves every citizen of this nation to arm themselves with knowledge and action to defend and preserve this God-given treasure.”

Darville will take part in the march as part of the delegation sent to New York by the global Waterkeeper Alliance, a leading non-governmental organization (NGO) which coordinates more than 200 stewards of the marine environment, or “waterkeepers”, who are assigned to rivers, bays, lakes and coastlines around the world.

“As official Waterkeeper for The Bahamas, it is an esteemed privilege to have been invited to participate in the People’s Climate March,” he said. “Along with tens of thousands, I will sound the alarm to awaken the consciousness of our people. We will now partner with the entire world to save this planet from annihilation,” he said.

“Due to our ignorance and greed, the misuse and abuse of this magnificent gift so graciously bequeathed to us, all lands, all seas, rivers, lakes, brooks and streams are under immediate danger from climate change-causing pollution.”

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. What began as a grassroots environmental awareness campaign quickly mushroomed to cover a variety of civic and social justice concerns and grievances as other advocacy groups flocked to STB’s banner.

The movement now has more than 500 registered members, the largest Facebook audience of any Bahamian NGO with 17,000 followers and more than 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for an EPA, an FOIA and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.  You can keep up with Darville and Save The Bays by liking Save The Bays on Facebook, where photos and updates will be posted of the march.

STB membership is free. To learn more or sign the petition, visit: http://www.savethebays.bs

Smith: Country Being Run ‘Like a Dictatorship’

Prominent attorney Fred Smith is calling on the government to fulfill its legal obligation to produce a land use plan for the island of New Providence. Smith, legal director for Save The Bays, said more respect must be shown for both the letter and the spirit of the laws that govern The Bahamas.

Prominent attorney Fred Smith is calling on the government to fulfill its legal obligation to produce a land use plan for the island of New Providence. Smith, legal director for Save The Bays, said more respect must be shown for both the letter and the spirit of the laws that govern The Bahamas.

 

Save The Bays attorney says government in breach of law over failure to produce land use plan for New Providence

 

 

Nassau, Bahamas – Leading attorney Fred Smith urged the government to stop running the country “like a dictatorship” and live up to its legal obligation to introduce a land use plan (LUP) for New Providence.

Smith, legal director of fast-growing social and environmental advocacy movement Save The Bays (STB), pointed out that the creation of an LUP was mandated in the 2011 Planning and Subdivision Act, yet the government has sat through more than half its current term with producing one – or informing the public of when it plans to.

“The failure to fulfill a legal duty to introduce an LUP for New Providence is yet another example of the executive acting as if it can just ignore the legislature with impunity. We have three branches of government, all of equal consequence. The prime minister is not the king of The Bahamas,” he said.

“Yet through successive governments, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has run this country as if it were a dictatorship, or some feudal aristocracy where those at the top can do as they please and answer to no one.”

Smith compared the failure to enact an LUP to other examples of politicians flouting the law, such as the failure of several parliamentarians to declare their assets in accordance with the Parliamentary Elections Act.

The attorney explained that an LUP would set rules and guidelines in an effort to make development in The Bahamas more rational, more efficient, and crucially, more ethical.

In most developed countries around the world, land-use planning is employed in an effort to protect natural resources, avoid potential land disputes and provide a vision of future possibilities for the orderly growth of neighborhoods and communities, he said.

“Currently, we live in the Wild Wild West of unregulated development, where wealthy foreigners can come in – with the acquiescence of government officials hopeful of campaign donations – and build however and whatever they see fit, no matter what the longterm consequences,” Smith said.

He said this frequently leads to monumental environmental destruction, a disregard for the traditional customs and culture of local communities, and causes social upheaval and economic uncertainty.

“Always, the politicians and developers promise us jobs, jobs, jobs, but too often these fail to materialize or prove to be unsustainable. Meanwhile, the question of what kind of Bahamas we are building for our children through these short-term, quick-fix solutions is hardly ever asked,” Smith said.

“In the service of this system which benefits developers and politicians but leaves the average Bahamian, particularly in The Family Islands, out in the cold, the integrity of our legal system is being systematically eroded, to the point where Acts of Parliament can be ignored.”

Smith said an LUP should be in place not just for New Providence but also the Family Islands. He added that the Local Government Act needs to be amended to give real power to local communities.

Each island, he said, should be able to envision and create its own future, with District Councils empowered to levy taxes, pass by-laws and enforce them, and control town planning and Crown Land use – just as in the country’s “more civilized neighbors”.

“The central government and the Office of the Prime Minister cannot keep riding rough-shod over Family Islanders and treating them like colonies of Nassau, to be exploited for political gain or personal benefit, like The Colony of The Bahama Islands once was by England,” Smith said.

He emphasized that in the Family Islands, where unregulated development is most rampant and the OPM’s power is near absolute, – though exercised without legal basis – the rule of law is most seriously under threat.

“The PLP promised Local Government in the late 1960s but never delivered. The FNM promised it and mounted a pretense of Local Government, then over the years set about progressively clawing back what little authority it had granted and starving local officials of funding, making it almost meaningless.

“Upholding the rule of laws like the Planning and Subdivisions Act and the Local Government Act – in both letter and spirit – is one of the central tenets of STB,” Smith said. “We also want to see unregulated development brought to an end, as well as passage of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and a comprehensive Environmental Protection Act (EPA).”

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. What began as a grassroots environmental awareness campaign quickly mushroomed to cover a variety of civic and social justice concerns and grievances as other advocacy groups flocked to STB’s banner.

The movement now has more than 500 registered members, the largest Facebook audience of any Bahamian NGO with 17,000 followers and more than 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for an EPA, an FOIA and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.

In June, a pro-FOIA rally in Rawson Square organized by STB attracted 20 different organizations, together representing more than 60,000 people with diverse concerns ranging from environmental destruction and government corruption, to labor disputes and human rights abuses.

STB membership is free. To learn more or sign the petition, visit: http://www.savethebays.bs

Top lawyer: government stalling over FOIA

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Save the Bay’s legal director calls proposed 2016 date unacceptable, says public demands government transparency and accountability now

            Prominent attorney Fred Smith, QC, has hit out at the announcement that there may be no Freedom of Information Act brought to Parliament until 2016, saying the legislation is already long overdue and accusing government of stalling in an effort to avoid increased public scrutiny.

Smith, the legal director of fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays, which has campaigned energetically for the enactment of an FOIA, noted that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) promised to enact the legislation during the 2012 campaign but has failed to live up to that pledge.

“It is simply unacceptable,” Smith said. “Five years after the election promise and on the eve of the new election is far too long for the public to wait for transparency and accountability in government.

“An FOIA is exists in some form or other across the entire civilized world. It is a disgrace that The Bahamas is lagging so far behind in granting its citizens the fundamental right to know what is being done in their name and with their money by public servants and elected officials.”

Smith was responding to the announcement by Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald that following his government’s withdrawal of an FOIA passed just before the 2012 election by the former Free National Movement (FNM) administration, a revised version will not be presented to Parliament before spring 2016.

“Again, just like the FNM, they are kicking the can down the road, pushing the matter to the end of their term so as to avoid increased public scrutiny of their own actions and make FOIA the problem of their successors,” he said.

“It’s no wonder they are stalling – think of how many important public issues have arisen on the PLP’s watch that an FOIA could shed considerable light on.

“Take for example the outrageous letter of intent signed by Renward Wells for a $600 million project without the approval of Cabinet, or the U.S. State Department’s complaints of a lack of transparency in the issuance of government contracts, or the still mysterious NIB controversy right at the beginning of their term. The list goes on and on.”

Smith said of particular concern to STB is the ongoing practice of governments forging secret deals with foreign developers that often lead to significant environmental degradation and social dislocation.

“The scourge of unregulated development has its roots in the lack of transparency and accountability. The public should know what the government has agreed to in its name, and should always have a say on what is done with its Crown land and natural resources.

“In the absence of freedom of information, The Bahamas has been run like a petty dictatorship by successive governments, which have treated our land, our patrimony, our Family Islands as if it was their own to sell to whom they wish and for whatever price they wish – usually next to nothing; prime ministers (as Ministers of Finance) who treat our treasury as if it is their own personal piggybank that can be used to fund whatever shortsighted projects they please.”

Smith said Fitzgerald’s distain for the public was evident in his claim the delay is necessary as government is still in the process of deciding whether it should make the “over 100” amendments to the FNM’s Act, or “scrap it” and start it from scratch.

“And where exactly did they come up with these 100 amendments? With whom did they consult? Are they suddenly free speech experts?

“The public has a right to an open discussion on this matter in which advice and recommendations can be submitted by interested groups and individuals. Clearly, they don’t have any respect for the citizens of this country, or for their sacred right to open and transparent government,” he said.

Meanwhile, Smith said, the rest of the world clearly does understand the urgent need for FOIA in The Bahamas.

“Earlier this year, the government’s own tax reform consultants from New Zealand insisted the legislation was crucial for the implementation of Value-Added Tax, slated for January 2015.

And, the new US Embassy Charge d’affaires threw support behind FOIA in The Bahamas and pledged her country’s help to see it in place, a pledge the administration has yet to even acknowledge,” he said.

“Thus, with this delay, Fitzgerald’s government is not only thumbing its collective nose at the public, but also at the international community and putting our global reputation on the line in the process. Bahamians must let them know we will not stand for it. We want action now.”

Launched just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. Begun as an effort to bring and end to the scourge of environmentally destructive unregulated development, the grassroots movement quickly mushroomed to incorporate a variety of other civic and social justice concerns and grievances as other advocacy groups flocked to STB’s banner.

In June, a pro-FOIA rally in Rawson Square organized by STB attracted 20 different organizations, together representing more than 60,000 people with diverse concerns ranging from environmental destruction and government corruption, to labor disputes and human rights abuses.

The grassroots effort now has more than 500 registered members, 17,000 followers on Facebook and 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for an Environmental Protection Act, an FOIA and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.

International experts alarmed over Bimini development

International environmental experts have raised concerns over the ongoing resort construction in Bimini, which they say is already impacting the surrounding marine ecosystem.

International environmental experts have raised concerns over the ongoing resort construction in Bimini, which they say is already impacting the surrounding marine ecosystem.

New video backs prominent environmentalists’ concerns over effect of dredging and other works on the pristine and ecologically significant marine environment

 

A group of international conservation experts has expressed serious concern over the environmental impact of ongoing resort construction on and around the island of Bimini.

 

The experts, hosted on a tour of Bimini by fast-growing social and environmental advocacy group Save The Bays (STB), said they fear the work may destroy some of the most significant coral reefs in the region and put the island’s traditional industries at risk (see video at SaveTheBays Bahamas youtube site: http://bit.ly/1nNEXKF).

 

“The Bahamas are some of the most beautiful and wonderful places in the world,” said Marydele O’Donnely, director of international policy for the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC). “I’ve traveled extensively and I have been absolutely amazed by how the habitat looks here.

 

“But when I see developments like what is happening in North Bimini I am not only alarmed and concerned, but really saddened. Things have happened here that shouldn’t have happened.

 

“You can have development but you need to do it properly, and it hasn’t been done properly.”

 

Archie Carr III, also an STC director, called what he saw in Bimini “quite depressing” – particularly the impact of a massive seafloor dredging operation undertaken to make way for a 1,000 foot pier and cruise ship terminal, right at the heart of Bimini’s most valuable reefs and dive sites.

 

Carr said the operation resulted in “enormous siltation”, which locals say continues to blanket the surrounding sea floor and suffocate struggling marine life.

 

Many of the visitors were senior members of the global Waterkeeper Alliance, a leading NGO that coordinates more than 200 stewards of the marine environment, or Waterkeepers, who monitor and help safeguard rivers, bays, lakes and coastal areas around the world.

 

Noting the importance of Bimini marine environment, both ecologically and in economic terms, Rachel Silverstein, the Waterkeeper for Biscayne Bay, Florida said: “The development that’s going on here is threatening the livelihood of Bahamians who have businesses here that support the tourism industry.”

 

The developer, Resorts World Bimini, owned by Malaysian conglomerate Genting, has claimed its presence will boost the local economy, but Biminites have grown increasingly concerned that the property will end up monopolizing the tourism business.

 

One said: “They are now advertising their ‘six restaurants and bars and world class casino’, as well as a variety of water sports, a beach club and restaurant and a craft market, all within their walls.

 

“At what point are the day guests supposed to contribute to the local economy in the six hours they spend on the island?”

 

Alex Matthiessen, former Hudson Bay Waterkeeper, now CEO of the Blue Marble Project, concurred with this assessment and noted that the concern runs even deeper.

 

“No one, even we environmentalists or the Biminites here, are against development, we’re ok with development. The issue is local Biminites who have been making a healthy living off the natural resources here for many generations are being violated, when this kind of development happens.”

 

Meanwhile, local efforts to bring preserve Bimini’s marine habitat and traditional local economy took a significant blow recently when a court ruled that STB affiliate Bimini Blue Coalition had to pay more than $300,000 before their legal challenge of the development could be heard by a judge.

 

Despite battling tirelessly for many months, the grassroots coalition was forced to admit defeat, with attorney and STB legal director Fred Smith, QC, lamenting the fact that conservationists had been “priced out of justice”

 

Smith said it should be very troubling to all Bahamians when citizens with no personal axe to grind, who are merely seeking to defend the public interest, are denied their day in court due to their financial stature.

 

However, concerned citizens have vowed to continue closely monitoring developments in Bimini, particularly with an eye to blocking the plan to fill in North Bimini’s mangrove swamp and transform it into a golf course.

 

This same area was listed as the highest-priority site in the Bahamas for a proposed Marine Protected Area in the year 2000 by the Government of The Bahamas in recognition of its ecological and economic value of its habitat.

 

Fourteen years later, the North Bimini Marine Reserve is still not a reality.

 

During a recent visit to Bimini, Minister Alfred Gray advised Biminites to learn more about the trade of turf maintenance, spurring concerns that Resorts World was going to pursue filling in north Bimini’s mangroves and turning what was to become a marine protected area into a golf course. 

 

“This crucial area is a nursery for an abundance of marine species which are significant for the fishing industry not just in Bimini, but many of the surrounding islands as well,” Smith said. “We cannot allow that to happen.” 

 

To learn more about the conservationists’ tour, and the ongoing efforts to protect the environment and traditional way of life in The Bahamas, visit: https://www.youtube.com/user/ProtectCliftonBay.

FOIA ‘could have prevented’ Renward Wells controversy

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Save The Bays director says public must continue to demand increased transparency and accountability from politicians

 

As outrage continues to grow over the unauthorized letter of intent for a government contract worth more than half a billion dollars, prominent attorney Fred Smith, QC, blamed the controversy on the lack of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

 

Smith, legal director of fast-growing social and environmental advocacy movement Save The Bays (STB), said the group has been calling for an FOIA precisely to prevent such highly irregular deals, often undertaken without the knowledge or consent of the public.

 

“Transparency and accountability in government are the cornerstones of any real democracy,” he said. “Without them, what you have is a tyranny of elected officials masquerading as a free society.

 

“Politicians are able to allocate public funds however they wish, effectively acting as kings of The Bahamas in all but name and making a mockery of the concept of representative democracy in the process.”

 

The $600 million letter of intent (LOI) for an overhaul of the New Providence Landfill was signed with Stellar Waste to Energy by Ministry of Works parliamentary secretary Renward Wells in July, but it soon came to light that he did so without Cabinet approval. Prime Minister Perry Christie is reported to have asked him to resign, but Wells has not done so and Christie has not fired him. Meanwhile, the circumstances surrounding the matter remain shrouded in mystery.

 

“How can it be, at a time when our government is almost terminally strapped for funds, that a junior parliamentarian can sign an LOI with a private company for more than half a billion dollars without the permission of his superiors?” Smith asked. “Worse, how can nearly two months pass without any action being taken by the government, or any explanation of the matter being offered to the public?

 

“It is time we said enough is enough. Save the Bays calls on all right-thinking Bahamians to sign our petition (http://chn.ge/1oLXYwt) and join the campaign for the establishment of official transparency, the rule of law and public sovereignty in this country.”

 

Last week, opposition Free National Movement (FNM) leader Dr. Hubert Minnis called for a select committee to be appointed to look into the LOI. But, Smith pointed out, this step would have been unnecessary had an FOIA been in place.

 

“The FNM leader wants the appointment of a body with the power to subpoena relevant documents in an effort to get to the underlying facts of this mess. Yet that is exactly what an FOIA is designed to do and had one existed, Minnis would already have had an effective tool at hand.

 

“And, while the existence of such an Act might be useful now, in the aftermath of this strange LOI, the truth is that its real power might have been preventative. Officials tend to tread much more carefully in the first place when they know ordinary citizens can cause light to be shed on their actions.”

 

While it was Wells who signed the LOI, it is widely believed that he was following orders from a superior or superiors. Fellow Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) MP Leslie Miller claimed that “seasoned men” who should have known better were really behind the unauthorized document.

 

“This is the ultimate point of an FOIA, said Smith, “to help the public uncover who it is that is really pulling the strings in The Bahamas. Who it is that is really behind such secret deals, which often end up harming the public interest.”

 

Save The Bays began calling for an FOIA as part of its effort to bring and end to the scourge of environmentally destructive unregulated development, often the result of undisclosed deals between the government and wealthy foreign developers. The campaign quickly mushroomed to incorporate a variety of other civic and social justice concerns and grievances, as other advocacy groups flocked to STB’s banner.

 

In June, a pro-FOIA rally in Rawson Square organized by STB attracted 20 different organizations, together representing more than 60,000 people with diverse concerns ranging from environmental destruction and government corruption, to labor disputes and human rights abuses.

 

Founded just over a year ago, Save The Bays has taken The Bahamas by storm. The grass roots effort now has more than 500 registered members, 17,000 followers on Facebook and 6,000 signatures on its petition calling for an Environmental Protection Act, an FOIA and an end to unregulated development in The Bahamas.

 

 

 

 

Pictures ‘Show Silt Damage Caused By Bimini Ferry’

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Originally published in The Tribune

September 8th, 2014

THE environmentalist group Bimini Blue Coalition has released photographs taken a week ago by a ferry passenger which it claims shows a plume of mud and silt thrown up by the Resorts World Bimini (RWB) SuperFast.

The Coalition has been fighting RWB’s construction of a cruise ship terminal, 1,000-foot pier and man-made island and dredging activities associated with it. Its concerns include turbidity issues related to the SuperFast ferry operation, which brings passengers from Port Miami on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“What were once the clearest waters in the Bahamas, world famous for their beauty and bounty, are now becoming a disgusting plume of mud and silt,” the Coalition said in a statement. “RWB is also now stating that they are going to increase the schedule for the SuperFast, further polluting Bimini’s waters and killing our reefs every day of the week.

“This is terrible for all of Bimini’s businesses and residents, and is making the island far less appealing to tourists. What will be left for Bimini’s residents and tourism industry, including RWB, once they’ve further destroyed the beauty of what draws people here in the first place? There is no plan in their Environmental Management Plan to address turbidity issues during operation, despite it being one of the most serious threats of this whole project.”

RWB announced on Thursday that it has completed construction of the pier and that the ferry will start using it from September 18. In addition, Genting Group, which owns the resort and the ferry, announced that it will begin ferry service from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini on October 14. The ship will leave Port Everglades on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, in addition to its departures from Port Miami.

Genting has been tendering passengers from the ferry to the bay side of the island, a process that takes about an hour each way. Guests then take a shuttle to the resort or to Alice Town for sightseeing. Time on the island for a day trip totals only about two and a half hours.

However, with the new port, which was built on the ocean side, guests will disembark directly from the ferry onto land and be able to spend five to six hours on the island, Genting says.

The ferry — a 13-year-old cruise ship renamed the Bimini SuperFast — began sailing from Miami to Bimini just over a year ago after Genting bought the former Bimini Bay Resort, built a casino and started work on a 305-room marina hotel, to be completed this autumn.

Although some passengers stay on the island overnight, a large majority are daytrippers on the ferry, which leaves Miami at 9am and returns around 7pm. The ferry has two casinos, a sports book and VIP rooms for high-rollers, and many of the daytrippers play at Genting’s casino on the island.

Although construction of the dock was approved by the Bahamas government, it ran into opposition from people who complained that it would damage coral and the rest of the underwater environment.

The new dock includes a temporary Customs and Immigration facility; permanent facilities are the next phase of the project. Genting also will build new beach amenities, including a restaurant, beach club and craft market.

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