Questions and the ire of residents were raised as work on a new resort and spa development got underway in Treasure Cay and continued despite a reported cease and desist order.
After acquiring approval from the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) in May of this year, Sand Bar Club and Spa Ltd., better known locally as Treasure Sands Club, began dredging the creek just outside the entrance gate to Treasure Cay and preparing the area for a dock and mini-pier.
Residents are outraged as there was no public consultation and they feel the dredging is destroying the fish breeding ground and the inherent beauty of the wetland area that is nestled between the Treasure Cay area and the mainland. It was also felt that local government was left out of the loop in the approval process.
While North Abaco District Chief Councillor, Gary Smith confirmed that he was invited to, but was unable to attend, a site inspection of the area in question which included BEST (Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology) Commission, Ministry of Works, Lands and Surveys, Port Authority and other agencies, he said he received no other communication on the project. He has since seen a copy of the BIA approval for the development.
Steve Pedican, Treasure Cay Town Committee member, said after hearing that the cease and desist order was sent by the government they started to “kick-up about it.”
“The government needs to get in here and to make sure certain questions are answered and people are assured the dredging of that creek, first and foremost, is not going to affect the marine life that lives and breeds in there,” he said. “Secondly, we know that during hurricanes that area floods; the entrance to Treasure Cay is under water. What’s being done to safeguard the residents?”
He said that the cease and desist order has not been delivered by Mr. Curry and noted that Senator Gary Sawyer’s company is doing the dredging. “It’s a conflict of interest as far as the Senator and the Member of Parliament and it’s making people think ‘what are you getting out of this?’” he said.
“You come in here and don’t even inform local government of what is going on. Sensitize them, make sure they know this is not a big deal, or whatever.” He said “let them see your due diligence.”
“We’re not against the project; anything that can help create jobs and economic activity is welcomed, but not to the detriment of the marls and mangroves.”
North Abaco Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Secretary, Renardo Curry defended the development in the House of Assembly and charged that the opposition to the development was politically motivated.
Mr. Curry expressed concern that foreign investors were experiencing inordinate delays in getting a reply from the BEST Commission. “How do we embrace foreign investment in this country, which we know we need? We know we need to find new money to help our economy, but when you have an agency that takes that long to respond its bad for business.”
Mr. Curry said the developer was trying to reach BEST for four months without reply but appeared to act quickly on short notice to issue a cease and desist recommendation. He said he hopes that it was not political.
He said, “This investor followed all protocols, the only thing he is asking for is to seek to get approval to move forward, in doing that the only thing that is holding up is the BEST commission.”
He added, “If you talk about ease of doing business, The Bahamas continues to slip down the list and I believe this is the reason why. We don’t take time seriously, time is nothing to us; time is money for investors.”
In an October 24 article in The Tribune, Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle confirmed that a cease and desist order had been issued to the Sand Bar Club and Spa after it was discovered that developers had begun dredging without requisite approvals from the BEST Commission.
However, dredging continues despite the cease and desist order largely due to the fact that the developer has not yet received the order. Tim Blakely, Vice President of Treasure Sands Club said “I have heard about this order in the newspaper, but no order has been given to me. If I had the order I certainly would stop the work.”
Mr. Blakely said that Local Government was invited to the site meeting where multiple agencies from Nassau flew in to physically walk the site and view the plans. Gary Smith was carbon copied “but for some reason he couldn’t make it and he didn’t send a representative.”
He said he understood the point of the meeting to be that “if these agencies had any concerns with the project, anything they were unhappy about or things that needed addressing they would report back to the Foreign Invest Authority (FIA) who would contact us and we could address it and move on to the National Economic Council (NEC).”
He noted that a BEST Commission representative was with the group and said while they pointed out a few areas of concern, overall there was no problem with the site.
Mr. Blakely said they had an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) prepared and have been monitoring the turbidity (muddiness created by stirring up sediment) of the water to ensure it remains at acceptable levels. Because the area is made up largely of a sand the muddiness has been very minimal.
He said that whatever the government has asked him to do or required he has made sure to do.
Keith Bishop, Environmental Engineer and Principal of Islands By Design, who prepared the EMP for Treasure Sands Club said letters from the BIA and the BEST Commission did not request an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
“BEST had environmental guidelines, I thought they were inadequate. We added to them and sent them to BEST. After three months we did not have a response from them despite multiple phone calls and emails. So I drafted the EMP on my guidelines – on my terms of reference – and having not heard further, and the developer wanted to start, I sent it in. I have heard nothing further other than what I have heard in the press.”
He said that despite concerns silt curtains are only needed if there is a plume of siltation; if the major material is sand there would not be concerns of a plume as the sand will drop back to bottom almost immediately.
Mr. Bishop said he was not engaged to monitor the site and said normally the call for monitoring would come from the BEST Commission.
He noted that the BEST Commission is not a regulatory body but simply an advisory committee. The Bahamas Investment Authority approval is final and the developer only needs now to acquire requisite permits from the relevant agencies.
Treasure Sands Club
Speaking to the project itself, Mr. Blakely said that the goal is to build a hotel on the beach side, but they want to provide facilities and activities for their guests.
“We want to put in some bonefishing, some kayaking, some paddle boarding, some volley ball, some tennis, some yoga and spa, another little restaurant, we want to beautify the area, a kids playground, some nice shaded areas, some green areas, some parks you can walk with a baby and a stroller,” he said. “We also want to do some shops and create a colonial village-like feel, where local businesses can rent out shops.”
He said “Obviously I’m concerned for the environment because one of our unique selling points is the amazing wildlife – the flora and fauna – in Treasure Cay. Someone coming in from London can go out in a kayak and see a turtle, a bonefish and a lemon shark, that would make their vacation, even if it rained for the other six days they were here. They would go away with great memories.”
Mr. Blakely sees the development becoming a fine addition to the Treasure Cay area providing a hub inclusive of much needed activities for the area and will also provide additional jobs either through direct employment or through secondary and tertiary opportunities. “We want it to be a hub of activity; we want to get something going in Treasure Cay. We have one of the top beaches in the world but there is nothing else going on,” he said.
According to the BIA’s letter Treasure Sands received approval for a two story twelve room hotel on their property next to the beach and on the creek were approved to develop a fishing lodge with mini-pier and four-slip dock, picnic area, two tennis courts, two car parks, green areas, a yoga hut, nature trails and exercise tract on nine-and-one-half acres of land.
They were also granted a license agreement for an additional 28,855 square feet of Crown Land.