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2005-05-24 14:28:06

Furor Over Bimini Bay

Bimini residents maintained that even the revised project is too big for Bimini, and that dredging for the project has already destroyed much of the island's mangroves.

Tempers flared on Monday as approximately 100 Bimini residents protested at the entrance of the Bimini Bay project, demanding that the government put a stop to the construction of a gate there which separates the developers from the rest of the island.

Local government officials in Bimini led the demonstration, accusing the government of not consulting residents about revised plans for the project and slamming the Ministry of Works for granting approval for the gate's construction.

Residents claim it confines them to accessing less than half of the island.

When The Bahama Journal arrived at the demonstration site in Bimini, a large pay loader was parked in front of the property preventing vehicles from approaching the gate.

"Has anyone considered how that is going to affect a population of 1,600 people subjected to only 2.2 miles without free access to the additional 4.8 miles?" Tasha Bullard-Rolle, chief councilor in Bimini, asked. "The people of Bimini still possess Crown Land beyond this project."

Rafel Reyes, president of RAV Bahamas Ltd, the developers of Bimini Bay, in a release issued on Monday, said, "The gate referred to has been installed for safety and security reasons. Bimini Bay is a construction site and has many of the dangers usually found on major construction sites, such as open trenches, live wires, electrical transformers and so on."

Mr. Reyes said screening occurs at the gate because there is a concern about nighttime access.

"Also in recent times, there have been many police-related incidents involving alleged theft of construction materials and the alleged trafficking of people and narcotics," he added.

But residents insist that Bahamians are refused entry beyond the gate regardless of the time of day, and demanded answers to why a large number of Mexican workers are employed at the property compared to what they said is a handful of Bahamians.

Monday's demonstration came as a spin-off to a town meeting held by Bimini residents last Friday regarding numerous land, environment and employment concerns at the Bimini Bay development.

Mrs. Bullard-Rolle said government ministers including Minister of Tourism and Member of Parliament for Bimini Obie Wilchcombe were invited to attend the meeting, but Minister Wilchcombe indicated that his schedule would not permit him to.

The response, she said, showed the government's disrespect for the views and opinions of Bimini residents.

The government signed a revised heads of agreement with the project's developers last year.

The original agreement for the resort project called for 930 rooms, 3,200 condos and 611 family houses, but was scaled down by half in the revised agreement.

Bimini residents maintained that even the revised project is too big for Bimini, and that dredging for the project has already destroyed much of the island's mangroves.

When asked about the number of foreign workers employed at the Bimini Bay project compared to Bahamians, Labour Minister Vincent Peet said he sent a team of labour inspectors from Grand Bahama to Bimini to investigate the matter several weeks ago.

Minister Peet added that there are concerns about the ratio of foreign to Bahamian labour and added that there are also concerns about pay scales in that foreign workers are said to be willing to accept salaries Bahamian workers are unwilling to accept.

"When the officers in Grand Bahama are done with the Royal Oasis matter, I believe they will be going back to Bimini so that we can see how we can get the numbers of foreign workers reduced and get more Bahamians employed," he said.

Assistant Director of Immigration on Grand Bahama James Rolle told The Journal that the Department has issued close to 100 permits to foreign labourers for work in various capacities at Bimini Bay.

Sharon Williams, The Bahama Journal

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