'Residents back plan for Lighthouse Point'

By RICARDO WELLS

Tribune Staff Reporter

rwells@tribunemedia.net

DISNEY Cruise Lines has already "won out" in its bid to gain the support of residents in Eleuthera, according to representatives from the Community Support Group (CSG).

The organisation, whose members include the wife of Central and South Eleuthera MP Hank Johnson, Shelly Johnson, and bonefishing guide and former Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association board member Denny Rankin, was established this past spring to best convey the "unfiltered voices" of local residents in Eleuthera.

Mr Rankin, who now serves as CSG chairman, yesterday claimed 80 percent to 90 percent of residents in Eleuthera are in support of Disney's proposal for the property.

"This is not the couple of people the groups in Nassau reach over the phone or by accident," he said. "This is our group going door-to-door and face-to-face with our people here in Central and South Eleuthera."

CSG, according to its representatives, remained neutral in the Lighthouse Point saga until it was presented with proposals from both the One Eleuthera Foundation and Disney Cruise Lines.

The group said once the determination was made to back Disney, One Eleuthera launched a campaign which gave the perception that it had the full support of residents.

Mr Rankin said: "We had to come together to make it clear where we stood."

He said the organisation has attempted to stay out of the fray surrounding the national debate over the property.

He insisted the group has remained true to its intent of ensuring the residents in Central and South Eleuthera remain informed throughout the process and reflected in the media as accurately as possible.

Mr Rankin said in recent months, his organisation has watched while its stance has been dismissed as "a small group or a small percentage."

He said: "This thing is going all around and up and down, but if you stop and pay attention, you would see clearly that Eleuthera is behind what Disney is proposing to do.

"I been in conservation all of my life; in the BNT and in BREEF. When I saw what Disney had proposed, I was onboard because they made their intentions clear. I've visited Castaway Cay - Disney is not trying to disturb our ecosystem and environment," Mr Rankin added.

"The economy of our community is dead - Central and South Eleuthera has nothing going for it. This is the perfect opportunity to give it a rise and really empower the residents down here."

Referring to the recent Public Domain poll carried out on the development, which was commissioned by Disney, he said: "I'm not talking polls and all of that. I am talking about the persons that could stand up and be counted. It is them that want this. It is them that will come out whenever the need arises to stand for this project because they know what it would mean to them to have this kind of development in their community."

Meanwhile, Mrs Johnson, another spokesperson for the group, took direct aim at One Eleuthera for what she described as "false representations of the truth."

"This is not a political affair," she told The Tribune. "One Eleuthera needs to understand that. This is about changing lives for the residents of Central and South Eleuthera."

When asked what was the basis of her frustration with the One Eleuthera Foundation, Mrs Johnson added: "One Eleuthera is fighting us to give us something we don't want and they refuse to accept that Eleuthera doesn't want their pie in the sky idea.

"When we made our decision to support Disney, it was them that made this into a back and forth thing.

"Like Disney, One Eleuthera had its chance to present plans; the people were not interested and we said to them that we would go with Disney. They couldn't accept that."

She added: "All Disney did was speak to us. This is not a fight between Disney and One Eleuthera, this is a fight between One Eleuthera and the people of Eleuthera."

Expressing a clear disdain for One Eleuthera's action in recent weeks, Mrs Johnson asserted: "They want to give us corn beef and we want the lobster. It isn't out of our reach. We can see it and touch it.

"Why get mad at us because we want better?" she asked.

Lighthouse Point is a 700-acre peninsula located at the southern tip of Eleuthera. Disney's proposal is being opposed by environmental activists.

In a letter to the editor released yesterday, BREEF executive director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert said the important area is under "immediate threat".

"There are numerous irrevocable environmental impacts that would be caused by the construction and operation of a cruise ship port in such a pristine location. Dredging for construction would result in sedimentation on nearby coral reefs and sea grass beds, killing fish, corals, and other marine life, and regular ship docking would cause air pollution and further sedimentation on a daily basis. Cruise ship groundings and everyday anchor damage have destroyed huge areas of live coral reef around the world. In 2012, a cruise ship pulverised the reef in The Bahamas off of Freeport and left scars of toxic bottom paint to contaminate the waters. Construction on land would destroy sensitive ecosystems and archaeological sites, impact turtle nesting beaches, and cause more run-off into the sea.

"The construction of a cruise ship port at Lighthouse Point would also restrict local access and contribute only minimal economic benefits to local communities," she wrote.

Disney has taken preparatory steps to acquire the historic site for the construction of multi-million-dollar cruise port, promising a $400m spend.