Tensions were still running high in North Abaco last week following the dredging at the site of a proposed boutique hotel and fishing lodge by Sand Bar Club and Spa Ltd. near the entrance of Treasure Cay.
Residents claim that the dredged site is where the Loyalists first settled after their 1783 landfall at Carleton Point, and that now artifacts of great historical value are lost forever. Although the government issued a cease and desist order on Oct. 22 for dredging to be stopped, it was reported that there was a delay in the developers receiving it.
Consequently, the North Abaco District Council retained the services of Grand Bahama Attorney Fred Smith, who was joined by Joseph Darville, in Treasure Cay on Nov. 6. Fred Smith and Darville are both directors for the Save the Bays Coalition, and stated that they are in allegiance with the council.
“That is reprehensible; it should never happen, [and] I call them environmental terrorists,” Darville said.
“This is a catastrophe waiting to happen,” he said while pointing in the direction of the creek. “They’ve already destroyed the habitat of a number of marine species. Right today we stood at the end of this particular excavation, and noticed five different species that are there struggling in this water, which they have already polluted.”
Joining the conversation, Ejnar Cornish, deputy chief councilor for North Abaco, said he was most concerned by the issue because the North Abaco District Council had been bypassed and has received very little information about the project.
Disgruntled resident – Israel Cooper – said the dock constructed at the Treasure Sands Club is an eyesore atop one of the top 10 beaches in the world.
“Everything is being done without any input from the community,” Cooper complained.
Fred Smith agreed with Cooper saying that the failure of every government is the lack of respect for the locals.
“Local communities should be allowed to make decisions about their own future instead of having it rammed down their throats,” Fred Smith said.
Meanwhile, Chief Councillor Gary Smith said they had invited Fred Smith to view the project with them because they have serious concerns about the way the government has allowed the investor to breach the laws of the country. He said they were disrespected at the highest level.
“We will not sit down and allow them to go any further,” Gary Smith vowed. “We stand strong with the residents of Treasure Cay, and we’re going to fight this until the end. We definitely want this project to be stopped.
“This is raising serious environmental concerns. We are very much concerned about the dredging her that is going to cause serious flooding during hurricanes and during spring tide.”
Gary Smith added that the developers planned to bulk head the area to allow the water to go around into the surrounding settlements and as far as the S.C. Bootle Highway. Those areas, he said, will be impassable during hurricanes.
While the chief councillor said he does not have a problem with the project itself, he does not believe it should be where the creek is.
“This creek should not be touched; the Bahamas National Trust wanted to make this area a national park – that’s saying a whole lot,” Gary Smith explained.
Chief Councillor Smith also warned that the North Abaco Council would be revoking the permits issued by the Port Board giving permission to the developers to build docks, and that they are separating themselves from Central Government on this issue.
Fred Smith explained that the stated goals of Save the Bays are to challenge unregulated development and to promote respect for the locals.
“This is about human rights and respect for local people, who are most intimate and familiar with the environment,” Fred Smith bellowed. “They have raised their children here. They have been here for generations. They love the land and the sea. It has always provided them with sustenance, so it’s a very, very intimate relationship that family islanders have with nature.”
As board director for the Treasure Cay Property Owners Association (TCPOA), and general manager of the Treasure Cay Hotel, Resort and Marine, Stephen Kappeler spoke on behalf of Robert Meister, owner and developer. Kappeler was concerned about the illegal dredging taking place without the proper permits. He said that the Meister family owns some of the largest sums of land in North Abaco, and the waterway on the creek side feeds up to the property called Third Phase, which has been reserved for future development.
Treasure Cay business owner, Cliff Bootle, said the dredging will have adverse effects on Ecotourism prospects with kayaking, the proposed national park, and the further discovery of artifacts – some of which are housed at the hotel.
Weighing in on the issue from a historical view, Ann Albury’s family owned 20 acres of property inclusive of Carleton Point, which was where the Loyalists originally settled. Based on what her grandmother Edna Roberts told her, Albury said the Loyalists used smaller boats to cross over from the beach to the creek area.
With the permission of Norman McKinney, Albury said that in 1983 a plaque was placed at Carleton Point designating it as the landing place of the Loyalists in 1783. Albury’s husband also found a brick at the creek, and it was confirmed that it was a brick that was used for the ballast of the ship. Piece of china and a military button were also found. So far, she said that Bahamian artist Alton Lowe, Bob Carr, an archaeologist, and Steve Dodge, author, are all aware of what is taking place.
“It’s our heritage that’s being destroyed,” Albury said. “We have to put a stop by being a voice and not being scared to speak out.”