Friday, March 22, 2019
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE details in the Heads of Agreement between the government and Disney for a cruise facility at Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera have raised concerns, Progressive Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell said yesterday.
The senator further slammed Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis for the “arrogance” displayed in parliament on Wednesday when he told the House of Assembly he made no apologies for announcing first in Eleuthera that the deal had been agreed. It was done in a closed-door meeting on March 7 and not announced until March 9.
Among the PLP’s concerns Mr Mitchell said is that the Minnis administration has committed a large parcel of land to Disney Island Development Ltd, without the people, by way of parliament, having the last say.
The deal allows for the conveyance of 190 acres of land along the southernmost point of the property — a $6.29m value — to the government for establishment of a national park.
Additionally, portions of the seabed will be leased at a cost of $1,000 per acre for 50 years for Disney’s $250m-$400m cruise port.
The dimensions of the seabed and location to be utilised were not mentioned in the agreement.
“I think first of all everyone was generally troubled by the approval itself when there appeared to be an alternative to keeping the site in its pristine state,” Mr Mitchell said yesterday.
“Now what I must say is what alarms me is since the publication of the actual Heads of Agreement is a couple of things that have reached the public domain. One is the lease which one assumes goes with the developments that have to take place like the dock and the dredging and so on and so forth, but the fact that such large acreage can in fact be committed without Parliament having some say over whether or not this should happen or not.
“And this was a criticism which the FNM gave when they were in opposition that the government was disposing of large tracts of land without consultation of the general public, specifically the parliament. They preach one thing but they haven’t changed the paradigm at all.”
He continued: “The second issue would be the question of whether or not a full environmental impact assessment has been done and clearly the EIA has not been done. So here you now, you have a Heads of Agreement and you’re agreeing to develop a place which the environmental agencies are saying will fundamentally change the way the place looks and you don’t have an environmental impact study.
“It seems to me that this is also backwards. All of these things have to be publicly addressed again.
“You cannot rely on Disney because the experience you have with all of these developers that come in is they sing you a nice song while they are trying to get the permissions but they end up not doing what they promised to do and I don’t think that Disney in terms of its past track record is any different.”
Mr Mitchell said there were also likely to be social implications where residents in South Eleuthera may feel left out or disadvantaged by the project during its construction and operation.
The deal also sets outs various concessions the developers will receive to carry out the project.
The agreement also features what appears to be a “most favoured nation” clause as Disney will be entitled to receive any benefits not specifically mentioned in the agreement that may become available to any other cruise line or their affiliates under the Hotels Encouragement Act and its regulations.
As he tabled the document on Wednesday, Dr Minnis said the process had been one of openness and good governance. He told the lower chamber that in the past, various agreements by other governments were never tabled in the House and others remained sealed from public view for years.
Dr Minnis also said no construction or work can be done until an environmental impact assessment is complete to the satisfaction of the government.