The chairman and legal counsel for a powerful environmental advocacy group have charged the Christie administration with sealing a deal to create a private cruise port at East End, Grand Bahama that could kill the already struggling Freeport economy and endanger five fragile eco-systems that they say are among the most magnificent in the world.
The comments by Save The Bays Chairman Joe Darville and legal counsel Fred Smith, QC, came during a recent Voice of the Bays, The Environment Speaks radio show on Love 97.5 while they were discussing a proposed $200 million cruise port at East End, Grand Bahama. The port would be built by and for Carnival Cruise Lines and while Carnival says that it will employ Bahamians and provide entrepreneurial opportunities for vendors, Smith and Darville say the price of such a port is too great to pay. And they contend that locals in the area and in other parts of Grand Bahama whose livelihoods and environment were never consulted.
“Nobody in Grand Bahama knows exactly where this is going, whether it is on Crown Land or private land, if Crown Land, how much is going to be given away, what the tax incentives are, what the environmental impact will be or how it will affect the thousands of licensees in Freeport who survive from the cruise ships that come in,” said Smith. “What about the taxi drivers, the bus drivers, the tour operators, the restaurants, David Wallace’s beach concession, East End Tours, the banana boat operators, jet ski operators, the vendors who sell their wares on the beach?”
According to Darville, who chairs the high-profile outspoken organization with more than 20,000 Facebook friends, the new port will not only put a nail in the coffin of a Freeport economy already on life support. It will also destroy irreplaceable environmental assets, he fears.
“It is a 35-40 mile ride from Freeport to East End so you are creating an attraction that will suck the very life out of Freeport which already has the infrastructure in place for cruise ships and they could add to that, improve what is already there. This could spell the death of the economy that is dependent upon cruise business.
“There is an environment aspect that is absolutely frightening, nightmarish even. There are almost seven miles of pristine beach. Somehow, the cruise line came across this gem and now they want to destroy it? There are five distinct eco-systems. You have probably a mile and a half of deep ocean, then the panorama of shallower waters with beautiful coral reefs, then coming in closer to shore, you have the grassy area there are turtles, fish, bonefish, and because of the soft nature of the coastal area, you have embarkments that allow the water to flow over and into the mangroves.
“That’s five eco-systems they would have to dredge through in order to be able to get through,” continued Darville. “They are going to rape the reefs, destroy the mangroves, dredge out the wetlands and they will say it is for the benefit of Bahamians. Baloney, it’s for the benefit of the cruise line.”
Both men are equally troubled by what they say was a lack of broad consultation with locals, though they are aware there was at least one meeting with a small group.
“We have a Local Government Act,” said Smith. “We have an East End District Council. Have they been consulted?”
Smith and Darville worry that deals are negotiated in private and shrouded in secrecy with the public learning what is happening when a Heads of Agreement photo opp takes place.
“We lament and we resist and we decry these continuing heads of agreement just like Baha Mar whereby the government sits in Nassau in the office of the Prime Minister which gets bedazzled like the native Indians that Columbus discovered 500 years ago and they gave them some kind of shiny beads and suddenly all the Indian land is gone,” Smith said.
“We continue to operate a system of government whereby the office of the Prime Minister behaves in secret and makes decisions without reference to the people most affected. There is a failure to understand that the government represents the people including the people throughout the Family Islands and this is the same problem that Save The Bays has been addressing since we were formed.”
Save The Bays, launched in 2013, has filed several judicial review actions on behalf of various Family Islanders who were displaced by or not consulted in connection with investor developments that impacted their lives. Its online petition calling for a true freedom of information act, an end to unregulated development and a comprehensive environmental protection agency has gained nearly 7,000 signatures.