The fight for Lighthouse Point, Bahamas


Environmentalist groups take on the Disney Cruise Line as they fight against the development of Lighthouse Point in Eleuthera, Bahamas. Canda Dames (The Guardian) reports:

In the early 2000s when foreign developers proposed to transform eco-sensitive heritage land at Clifton Cay in southwest New Providence into a gated community for high-net-worth individuals, environmental and other civic groups stood firm against the Ingraham administration’s consideration of the plan, eventually chasing the developers out of town. That was an important turning point for activism in The Bahamas [. . .].

In today’s Bahamas, no administration has an easy time approving development on land with fragile ecosystems. The voice of the environmentalists and the civic activists now features prominently in the discussion – as it should. And with social media use exploding, everyday Bahamians now feel empowered in large numbers to have their say in decision-making when such proposals are presented. It was that voice and that sense of empowerment, and unrelenting digging by local media, that exposed the egregious nature of the planned Oban deal – a proposed $5 billion oil refinery and storage facility project for the economically depressed east Grand Bahama. The government, desperate to create jobs, rushed into a very bad deal.

Today, it is being reviewed, and changes are being made to the heads of agreement with environmental clauses being strengthened, according to the government. Nearly two decades after Clifton and several months after the Oban debacle, environmental and civic activists, business leaders and average Bahamians are deeply worried about a planned development on a delicate and pristine site in south Eleuthera known as Lighthouse Point.

Whereas cruise lines in previous years met a less vocal reception to their proposals for private islands and other areas of The Bahamas, Disney Cruise Line is facing a firestorm in its bid to purchase and develop Lighthouse Point.

Social media is a huge driver in the project’s opponents getting their message out. Nearly 30,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the government of The Bahamas to protect Lighthouse Point. “This pristine place of outstanding beauty is currently not protected and is being marketed as a potential site for large-scale commercial development. This much-loved part of the island is in current danger of being ruined forever if it is not protected now,” according to the Save Lighthouse Point site. “Lighthouse Point is one of the most popular beach and recreation areas in the entire Bahamas. The biodiversity of the ecosystem and the hugely important cultural and historic resources are irreplaceable and should be preserved for the enjoyment and education of the entire community and not just for a select few.”

The Facebook group ‘Love letters to Lighthouse Point’ provides a forum for those opposed to Disney’s plan to share stories, photographs and other experiences from the beloved site. One user posted, “We fight on because we believe!” And another, who shared a breathtaking view of the intricate cliffs at the beach, added: “You look out past those cliffs and know God is nigh.” Another posted: “What a shame it would be to let Disney come in and destroy the beautiful natural Lighthouse Beach.”

Images of nature at its purest and in its most beautiful form flood the page. It is hard not to fall in love with the place. The most likely and most immediate response is to join those fighting against Disney’s plans.

Still facing the sting of the Oban nightmare, the Minnis administration is moving cautiously in considering approvals for the project. This is the smart approach.

There is much to consider here. The government has to strike a balance between environmental protection and economic development. Eleuthera residents who support the plan want jobs. They want something more to happen for their communities, which have for years been in dire need of revitalization.

During the last term, the then MP, Damian Gomez, spoke frequently about the Christie administration’s failure to deliver for the area.

Eleuthera residents have no doubt grown weary of hearing promises from politicians. “Eleuthera needs jobs. Eleuthera needs development. Eleuthera needs new investments. Eleuthera needs a PLP government. We need to fix the economy of South and Central Eleuthera,” then Progressive Liberal Party Deputy Leader Philip Brave Davis said at a rally on the island in 2012.

In 2017, the PLP was still singing that tune.

The Free National Movement (FNM) also promised to deliver for Eleuthera. It is pressured to do so in the same way it is facing pressure from islands like Grand Bahama to deliver.

The government seems to recognize that it must take a balanced approach to this matter. Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar told us the government will consider all sides before deciding whether to green light the Disney project. On the weekend, Disney decided to speak to the public in the form of an op-ed from Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Cruise Line.

Given the significance of the proposal and the growing controversy surrounding it, Vahle’s comments were carried by both major newspapers as their lead story. Some opponents to the project seemed miffed that we gave Disney the time of day in explaining its plan.

But it was important for the public to hear not just from groups like the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), reEarth and One Eleuthera Foundation on the matter, but also from the developer. Vahle said Disney’s development would have as little impact as possible on the natural environment. He said the company will focus on conservation. “Simply put, we want to work with The Bahamas to create an international destination that protects and sustains the natural beauty of this historic location; that creates quality jobs and opportunity for Bahamians; that celebrates the culture, and that strengthens the community in Eleuthera,” Vahle said. “From an environmental perspective, we are absolutely committed to doing the right thing and would never risk the natural beauty of Eleuthera or our long-standing commitment in this space by doing otherwise.

“What has often been forgotten in discussions about our plans is that the property is privately owned and has been on the market for quite some time. We are committed to giving more than 170 acres of what is currently privately owned land to the government for conservation.

“We also plan to preserve the more than 100 acres of salt ponds on the property.” [. . .]

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