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2004-12-08 16:11:06

Bimini Bay Project Still Causing Worries

What still concerns environmentalists, including those in the MAP and the Bahamas Reef Environment and Educational Foundation [BREEF] is that the island has no room for such a project.

Although the $100 million Bimini Bay development has been revised, there is still nagging anxiety about environmental degradation on an island whose mangroves and unspoilt natural habits conservationists want to protect.

The head butting between the Government of The Bahamas and critics who are concerned about an impending environmental catastrophe is well known.

In a new development, the international activist group Mangrove Action Project [MAP] is petitioning Prime Minister Perry Christie, several other cabinet ministers and officials in the Bahamas Environmental Science and Technology Commission, urging them to halt the destruction caused by an “unsustainable development plan.'

“The whole purpose is to try to protect what's there, preserve itfor the future generations and it's being tossed away for one person's short lived plan and his life will end one day with money in his grave and we will be poor on this planet earth and our children will be angry at us for being so stupid to let these kinds of developments progress,' said Alfredo Quarto, executive director of MAP.

According to Mr. Quarto, his organization is prepared to wage a consistent and sustained campaign against the development underway in Bimini and others like it that are a travesty.

“The whole issue is basically tearing apart a viable and important eco system that produces huge amounts of benefits for the local people and the local coastal environment and turning that into what's called a mega resort for one person's benefit….We think that unique forms of life will actually be extinguished from this Earth because of these kinds of developments which I think are really short sighted,' Mr. Quarto said.

Earlier this year, the government, in signing a revised heads of agreement with developer Gerado Capo branded the project as economically viable and environmentally sustainable. Phase I of the plan, in which RAV plans to pump $70 million, is now under construction.

It calls for a 410 room luxury hotel to include a small casino, 1,080 condos and 440 single family homes. There will also be an 18 hole Links golf course and a marina designed to accommodate 150 pleasure vessels.

Originally, the agreement had provided for 930 rooms, 3, 200 condos and 611 single family homes.

But what still concerns environmentalists, including those in the MAP and the Bahamas Reef Environment and Educational Foundation [BREEF] is that the island has no room for such a project.

In a letter addressed to the prime minister, MAP pointed out that worst of all the golf course will be built on what is now a mangrove wetland adjacent to North Sound which will be dredged and the sea bottom destroyed.

“The surrounding land will be sacrificed and filled,' the letter said. “In short this development is a disaster waiting to happen. Please take steps now to halt the further loss to this important and beautiful place.'

The warm clear waters of Bimini flow from the Gulf Stream up onto the Great Bahama Bank. These waters have made Bimini a world famous destination for Big Game Fishing, Scuba Diving, and Shark Research.

Bimini has the only mangrove estuary in the northwest Great Bahama Bank and serves as a fish nursery for thousands of square miles of sea bottom.

Dr. Samuel Gruber of the Bimini Biological Field Station has conducted a comprehensive study on the project's environmental impact, claiming that there was evidence the conditions in North Sound and Bimini lagoon had seriously deteriorated.

The report attributed this deterioration to a massive excavation of the lagoon substrata causing greatly increased sedimentation rates, increase in nutrient levels and possibly release of heavy metals.

He denied that the new heads of agreement that was signed with the Christie administration would allow a substantially scaled down version of the original project.

He argued that the agreement would still allow Mr. Capo to develop property from Bailey Town to North Sound as originally envisioned except that the development itself is only slightly smaller.

“The wetlands must remain in tact and mangroves must not be destroyed and you must not dredge and that has all been rescinded he can dredge and he can take out the mangroves and he can develop a golf course where there is now our wetlands,' he told the Journal.

The people opposed to the scale of the RAV project are backing another plan to make a portion of the island, on which over 1600 people call home, a Marine Protected Site.

The former Free National Movement Government had declared north Bimini one of five such sites that madeup a network of reserves throughout The Bahamas.

The plan was said to have five key benefits; to support fisheries and fisheries management, protect the ecosystem structure, enhancement non-extractive human activities such as sightseeing and scuba diving and increase scientific understanding.

The Journal contacted the Ambassador for the Environment Keod Smith but was told that he is out of town as was the Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini and Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe.

Tameka Lundy, The Bahama Journal

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