Archive | August, 2015

Smith: Anchor projects are the bane of The Bahamas

Save The Bays President tells College of The Bahamas students how mega-resorts and the secret deals that underpin them are ruining the environment and compromising the rule of law.

FsmithSave The Bays President Fred Smith, QC

The practice of government forging secret agreements with the foreign developers of mega-resorts has become an existential threat to both the environment and the rule of law in The Bahamas, Fred Smith, QC told College of The Bahamas (COB) students.

 

Speaking at a workshop for COB’s Environmental Law Clinic, he said that thanks to these shrouded deals, known as Heads of Agreements, the Family Islands are now strewn with the “rotting” remains of dozens of failed resort ventures.

 

“The Bahamas is littered with the decaying carcasses of white elephants,” he said. “A white elephant is a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of; or its cost is out of proportion to its usefulness.”

 

Smith – President of fast-growing social and environmental movement, Save The Bays – told the students that many these ill-fated projects continue to pollute and destroy irreplaceable ecosystems while disrupting local cultures and traditional patterns of life.

 

Rather than take action to protect the public from this trend, the political establishment has wholeheartedly embraced it, with the first Christie administration even launching the “Anchor Project” theory of development, seeking to attract a mega-resort to every populated island in The Bahamas. Smith explained this political enthusiasm by pointing out that even though these huge projects often fail, there is still a great deal to be gained by certain stakeholders.

 

“Anchor projects are the bane of The Bahamas,” he said. “But the foreign developers and many of the Bahamian politicians involved make lots of money upfront.”

 

Smith said the rule of law is enshrined in the Bahamas Constitution, but this reality has been largely ignored by the political establishment in its effort to take advantage of lucrative or politically useful situations.

“And hence we have no environmental law for the protection of the marine or terrestrial environment; for local rights for the protection of the Family Islands; for the protection of the social, cultural and economic environment of The Bahamas; for the indigenous and historically distinct communities that have developed throughout the Family of Islands,” he said.

 

“Everything has given way to money and corruption; expediency; politicians in Nassau grasping desperately to hold on to power and thus opportunities for secret profit.”

 

The stated aim of a Heads of Agreement is to cut through red tape so a development can proceed as swiftly as possible. In practice, Smith said, this leads to the subversion of numerous laws put in place to protect The Bahamas and its environment.

 

“We cut through the Local Government Act, the Customs Management Act, the Immigration Act, the Planning and Subdivisions Act, the Protection of the Physical Landscape Act and so forth. Red tape is nothing other than a euphemism for the laws duly enacted by the democratically elected members of parliament that populate our lower House and our Senate,” he said.

 

Smith asked the students to imagine someone being able to sign a Heads of Agreement with President Barack Obama to circumvent federal, state, county, and city laws “and build an anchor project in the Florida on the scale of Baha Mar; or an exclusive cruise port facility in Florida Cays like Carnival is planning for East Grand Bahama; or to explore for oil in the Great Lakes; or to secretly receive federal land for $1 a beachfront acre as occurred at Bakers Bay in Guana Cay.”

 

Founded just over two years ago, Save The Bays is a unique grassroots effort to protect ecologically significant areas of The Bahamas from unregulated development. With more than 18,500 followers on Facebook, STB is the fastest growing, most popular non-profit, non-government organization in Bahamas history on social media. The groups petition calling on the government to enact an Environmental Protection Act, a Freedom of Information Act, stop unregulated development and end to oil pollution is climbing in numbers, with around 6,500 signatures so far. To get involved, sign the petition or learn more, visit www.savethebays.bs

Government ‘jumped the gun’ over Rubis leak risks

Residents protest outside the Rubis station on Robinson Road, supported by Save The Bays and other concerned citizens.

Residents protest outside the Rubis station on Robinson Road, supported by Save The Bays and other concerned citizens.

Save The Bays CEO Vanessa Haley-Benjamin questions the decision to tell Marathon residents they have nothing to fear, based on preliminary and incomplete evidence

 

 

The government displayed poor judgment and risked giving false hope to Marathon residents by releasing incomplete findings on the health risks associated with the Rubis fuel spill on Robinson Road, Vanessa Haley-Benjamin said.

 

Lending her support to last week’s protest by Marathon residents outside the station, Haley-Benjamin, CEO of fast-growing social and environmental movement Save The Bays (STB), said authorities were wrong to tell residents they have nothing to fear from the toxic chemicals to which they were exposed for upwards of two years, as medical tests are far from complete – and likely to be less than conclusive when they are.

 

“The release of these premature results is unfortunate,” she said. “The government clearly jumped the gun. In reality, there is no satisfactory way in the short term to verify conclusively whether a person has been exposed to low levels of certain chemicals, for example benzene.”

 

Haley-Benjamin noted that according to Dr. van de Weerdt, toxicologist and consultant with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), while the preliminary results may be encouraging, it remains important to establish a complete picture of the situation – both in terms of completing the health risk assessments and being in a position to reassure concerned citizens.

 

“The government should not be in the business of communicating simplified versions of this very serious situation to the public,” she said.

 

Save The Bays CEO Vanessa Haley-Benjamin participates in last week’s protest, pointing out 20 recent cancer-related deaths in the area of the fuel leak.

Save The Bays CEO Vanessa Haley-Benjamin participates in last week’s protest, pointing out 20 recent cancer-related deaths in the area of the fuel leak.

“With regard to the 223 persons tested, more information is required to understand the extent of the evaluations and if those tested are representative of both the original and possibly any newly impacted areas. To date, we know that 17,000 gallons of fuel have yet to be recovered from the ground. Over time, the impacted area will grow as the benzene spreads with the natural flow of groundwater.

 

“Residents of this area are very concerned for their safety – and rightfully so considering the known link between aggressive cancer and benzene exposure; and in light of the more than 20 recent cancer-related deaths in the area,” said Haley-Benjamin. “Exposure to low levels of benzene can result in chronic health effects and take a longer period of time to manifest. This underscores the need for long-term medical surveillance by a medical practitioner to detect abnormalities during early onset.”

 

Haley-Benjamin called for a full report of the investigation by the Department of Environmental Health (DEHS) and PAHO to be compiled and released to the public, and said officials should refrain from making any sweeping statements until such time.

She went on to stress STB’s full support for Justice for Marathon, the grassroots community group that organized last week’s protest, citing the lack of proper response to the leak by both government and Rubis, and the ongoing failure to fully address the concerns of residents.

 

Haley-Benjamin said STB’s call for stronger environmental legislation is also an effort to protect human health by either through prevention of hazardous pollution, or mitigation of the effects if such situations do arise. To that end, she called for the implementation of an effective response and public warning system for hydrocarbon leaks, and a comprehensive monitoring program for all fuel stations, in line with the recommendations in the report by consultants Black & Veatch, who were contracted by the government to evaluate the response to the Marathon spill more than a year ago.

In January 2013, it came to the attention of Rubis and the government that the Robinson Road station had leaked around 24,000 gallons of gasoline into the ground.

The resultant presence of strong hydrocarbon vapors and discovery of large pools of underground gasoline forced the station’s immediate neighbor, Cable Bahamas to evacuate its Customer Service Building (CSB) amid fears of health and safety issues for customers and staff.  Eventually, more than 40 staff members had to be treated for exposure.

It has been confirmed that the leak led to the contamination of a wide area of groundwater, including the water supply to several homes and residents have reported a range of health problems.

For two years, Rubis and government officials were aware of the leak and the associated dangers, but failed to make any public announcements, sparking widespread outrage.

Since then, two further possible leaks at Rubis stations in New Providence have come to light. In the wake of the fallout from the Marathon case, both Rubis and the government appeared to take swift action. However yet again, they only broke their silence in response to concerns raised by members of the public.

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