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2005-03-04 16:28:35

Abaco Residents Outraged

Lawyer Mr. Smith said the residents of Guana Cay have public and private law rights and are entitled to be consulted on such matters.

The attorney retained by Guana Cay residents, who remain strenuously opposed to the colossal Passerine Development on the tiny landmass, is threatening to entangle the project in litigation until those residents are allowed to formally communicate their objections to the Government of The Bahamas.

Fred Smith told the Bahama Journal that he intends to, among other things, file a judicial review in the matter, challenging the prime minister's authority to sign the Heads of Agreement and file law suits against a number of government departments and agencies that deal with foreign investments.

"The residents of Guana Cay are not only going to sue once, but repeatedly and as often as necessary and as many government departments as is necessary until they are given a fair opportunity to be heard in this process and it is going to be a long drawn out battle and the financiers to the project are not going to want to finance the project with a cloud of litigation hanging over it," Mr. Smith said.

Government officials signed a Heads of Agreement for the $400 million development earlier this week.

That contract signing occurred a week after those residents, who have formed themselves into a group called Save Guana Cay Reef, reportedly forwarded a petition against it to the Office of the Prime Minister.

"Our group is definitely still opposed to it," said Troy Albury, a Guana Cay resident who operates a dive shop.

"We know that the land up there is prime land and somebody is going to definitely develop it. But what we are opposed to is the size and magnitude – a 240-slip marina that is going to kill 30 acres of mangroves just to put it in, not to mention what it is going to kill after it is done as well as an 18-hole golf course which is going to be sitting right next to the area of one of the world's third largest barrier reefs," he said.

There are worries that the insecticides and pesticides that will be used on the golf course and the runoff from the dredging for the marina will inevitably kill that reef. The marina is supposed to be dredged behind an area called Joe's Creek, reportedly the island's only and last fish estuary.

The cay is home to just under 200 residents, many of whom are second homeowners.

Mr. Smith said the residents of Guana Cay have public and private law rights and are entitled to be consulted on such matters. He pointed out that the judicial review that he will be pursuing is one of several legal avenues being contemplated.

"We are going to attack the Heads of Agreement," said Mr. Smith. "What we will be emphasizing and the basis of the challenge will be that the prime minister has no lawful authority and it is illegal, null and void for him or his cabinet to enter into these heads of agreement with foreign companies…to sign documents without reference to all the appropriate statutory boards to govern The Bahamas."

The next step, he said, involves the identification of a number of plaintiffs in the judicial review like the Investments Board, the Exchange Control Department, the Minister of Health and the BEST Commission.

This week, following the signing of the Heads of Agreement, Prime Minister Perry Christie said it was particularly important to him to avoid political divisions over the project, hence the recommendations that he sought from both parliamentary representatives for Abaco – former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and Robert Sweeting.

He also acknowledged what could lie ahead.

"The people who are concerned about your development may not give up now. They may take it another notch. But we are the government of the Bahamas. I am the prime minister of the Bahamas and I have just authenticated the government's commitment to the continuing development of Abaco and if they feel t hey must move forward then we may have to deal with it, hopefully in the same way we dealt with the political representatives where we all get together to show that this is a positive development in our country," he said.

Over the last several months, they have held numerous meetings to discuss the proposed development on the north end of Guana Cay.

As a compromise, and a move that was intended to help squelch the objections that were raised, the developers conceded to some changes in their initial proposal and the government settled on 66 acres of wetlands, creeks and flats being preserved through a foundation.

But according to Mr. Albury, that is still not enough.

"Those 66 acres they say they are going to preserve are right on the fringes of where they are going to put a 240 slip marina, so if they put it there with all the problems that come along with it pollutants etc., they are actually going to destroy those 66 acres," Mr. Albury said.

The petition that Guana Cay residents signed against the Passerine Development was said to have been signed by almost 100 percent of the persons living on the island, who have also secured expertise of their own environmental impact assessment.

"We are interested in the development in some sort of way but just not on a wide scale," said one Guana Cay resident who spoke to the Bahama Journal on condition of anonymity.

"We don't like what is happening at all but it seems that no one is listening," said another, who feared reprisals.

The developers have committed to employing 200 Bahamians during the construction phase and a similar number on a permanent basis. Potential spin-off ventures for Bahamians are also expected in retail, professional services, water sports and local entertainment.

Tameka Lundy, The Bahama Journal

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