Government 'will not sacrifice Grand Bahama environment for money'

By DENISE MAYCOCK

Tribune Freeport Reporter

dmaycock@tribunemedia.net

WHILE in Grand Bahama over the weekend, Acting Prime Minister Peter Turnquest took the opportunity to again allay fears residents might have regarding the Minnis administration's decision to approve the Oban Energies oil refinery and storage facility, promising the government would not sacrifice the environment in Grand Bahama for money.

It was the second time the MP for East Grand Bahama has commented publicly on continuing environmental fears over the proposed $5.5 billion facility in East End, Grand Bahama - an area known for its natural pristine beaches and eco-tourism sites.

"We understand the necessity of the environment in GB to be maintained and preserved and that is number one with respect to the government's decisions around any project that we anticipate, or that we approve in Grand Bahama - there is no sacrifice with respect to that," Mr Turnquest said on Saturday.

He told those attending a ceremony onboard the Grand Classica cruise ship celebrating the ship's inaugural visit, the government has learned from lessons in the past and will ensure the necessary controls are in place.

Risk

"You can be assured that despite the talk, the government is fully aware and cognizant of the risk imposed by our industrial sector, and we have known and understand the lessons learned from our experience. We are intent on ensuring that there are best practices and mitigation efforts in anything that we do. And so be assured we will not sacrifice our environment for the dollar, as they say.

"We understand and we certainly solicit the investment in the unincorporated areas of Freeport because they offer tremendous value in terms of the environment, in terms of the uniqueness of what we have to offer in terms of ecotourism, adventure tourism, in terms of what we have in the near-shore fishing and deep-sea fishing, and scuba diving - all of these experiences that we can benefit from the environment."

When asked whether he felt an oil refinery plant would impact eco-tourism in East Grand Bahama, Mr Turnquest said: "No, not at all. I think they can work in a symbiotic relationship."

He added: "This institution is not unique to us; this happens around the world, and it is a matter of making sure the controls are in place, and the systems are in place to protect the environment and that it works together."

Concerns have been raised about the environmental impact the project will have on the beaches and the marine life, especially fishing which is the livelihood of many residents in East Grand Bahama.

Many environmental groups have expressed opposition to the project being located in East Grand Bahama, including Save the Bays Chairman Joseph Darville, Shuffel Hepburn of the Grand Bahama Environmental Association, Eric Carey of Bahamas National Trust, and EARTHCARE.

At a recent University of the Bahamas North Grand Bahama Sustainable Conference, Mr Turnquest also urged Bahamians not to be fooled by the noise surrounding the Oban project.

Developer

He also shot down as "nonsense" speculation the government was "locked" into the project because a HOA with the developer has been signed.

He said as a sovereign nation, the Bahamas has the right to terminate any agreement, adding just because a HOA has been signed it does not automatically mean a licence to operate will be issued.

There have been criticisms against the government over the signing of the HOA with Oban before an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study was conducted.

On completion the project is expected to create 250 jobs, and 1,000 indirect jobs during the construction phase.