Thursday, October 11, 2018
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE argument that Disney’s proposed Lighthouse Point project could damage the environment of the 700-acre peninsula in South Eleuthera will not sway the government as it weighs approving the project, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said during a town hall meeting on the island last night.
This is because a more damaging project – one that never materialised – was approved for the area in 2008 under the FNM government of Hubert Ingraham, he said.
“In 2008, a project was approved for South Eleuthera which allowed dredging and multiple canal networks in that same property,” he said, “dredging of the salt pond into the ocean, creation of marinas for mega yachts, provision of land for different homes, boutiques, etc, and this was what was approved for that property and some may argue that the land will be destroyed but this project which was approved would’ve caused more destruction than what is being looked at today.”
“...The argument about the destruction of the land will hold no water,” he said
Dr Minnis’ statement is a blow to environmental groups like the Bahamas National Trust, reEarth and Waterkeepers Bahamas which have sought to block Disney’s development and promote efforts to preserve the Lighthouse Point property. In 2008, a joint venture between The Related Group and Mortgage Hospitality Group for an 884-acre site in south Eleuthera was approved in principle. That proposed project, which came amid the recession, never took off.
Dr Minnis also sought to diminish expectations that the government could intervene to preserve the Lighthouse Point property. “The other thing which is very significant which is important for you to recognise is that the property in question is not owned by government,” he said. “It’s private property, one private investor selling to another. The government’s responsibility is to ensure its people get the maximum benefit.”
Dr Minnis said cabinet will decide whether to approve Disney’s project next week. He said the One Eleuthera Foundation, a group trying to block Disney’s deal, has made its own offer for the property. He said his team will consider that proposal when the group makes a presentation to it on Friday.
He made it clear, however, that the opinion of residents at last night’s town hall will factor greatly into cabinet’s decision.
“I am your employee,” he said. “You employ me. You are the employer. I am your servant, whether some may like it or not, it’s the facts and I come to hear tonight as an employee how my employer feels so I can take it back to my colleagues and make a definitive decision by next week.”
The views of most of those attending were overwhelmingly supportive of Disney’s project. Dozens wore T-shirts reading “We Love Disney”, “Disney Loves Eleuthera,” “Eleuthera loves Disney” and “Disney Respects Me” when they greeted Dr Minnis’ delegation at the island’s airport and during the town hall meeting that followed.
The few at the town hall who opposed Disney’s project were often drowned out by jeers when they expressed their view. Supporters derided the project’s critics, characterising them as out of touch with the needs and desires of south Eleuthera residents.
While he avoided voicing outright support for the Disney deal, Dr Minnis foreshadowed job opportunities will be coming to South Eleuthera soon.
“We recognise that for all the suffering that you have had and experienced in Eleuthera, many of the young people are leaving Eleuthera and going to Nassau,” he said. “That cannot continue to happen. Once we make that decision and jobs are provided, then it’s essential for you to have proper accommodations and that is why we have already identified proper land within the south so we could ensure you have proper infrastructure and even young people can purchase such facilities. With employment, you must have an opportunity to build your home.”