Amidst the ongoing Judicial Review concerning the Abaco Club’s proposed marina at Little Harbour, the principals of the company defended the timing of the project’s Heads of Agreement signing as “coincidental”.
Tom Southworth, vice-president of development for Southworth Development, the Abaco Club’s main owner, said that the September 2, 2016, Heads of Agreement signing “had nothing to do” with either the marina permitting or Responsible Development for Abaco’s Judicial Review.
He said that negotiations with the Government took almost two years from the Abaco Club’s acquisition closing in December 2014, with 11 drafts exchanged between the two sides.
Mr. Southworth said the Heads of Agreement request had been made while negotiations to acquire the Abaco Club from Marriott Vacations Worldwide were ongoing during 2013-2014.
He added that the first draft was “in circulation” with the Attorney General prior to the purchase closing, and said: “NEC (National Economic Council) approval was issued in relation to our purchase in 2014, inclusive of the marina land, and there was agreement for the development to enter into a Heads of Agreement with the Government.
“Contractual timelines demanded that we close by year-end 2014, so we purchased without finalising the Heads of Agreement, but subject to the condition that Government conclude negotiations thereon
“Post-close, intense negotiations continued between the parties for almost two years, with approximately 11 drafts being exchanged.”
Mr. Southworth said the “final form” of the Heads of Agreement was largely agreed in mid-2016, with the signing taking place on September 2, 2016.
“The Government was meticulous with the negotiation of our Heads of Agreement and, as we were told by our lawyers, it was not uncommon for the negotiations to proceed slowly,” Mr. Southworth said.
“In short, while I understand your question and see the coincidence, the Heads of Agreement was being heavily negotiated for several years. The timing of the signing had nothing to do with the marina permitting process.”
Karen Brown, an attorney for Higgs & Johnson, the Abaco Club’s legal representatives, disclosed the timing of the Heads of Agreement signing in court documents which acknowledged that some three months prior to the Heads of Agreement signing, RDA had launched its challenge to the proposed Little Harbour project, challenging the permitting/approval process and alleged lack of consultation with interested parties.
Mr. Southworth, though, told Tribune Business: “Detailed discussions of the marina commenced [with the Government] from day one of the NEC application.”
The Abaco Club has also succeeded in its bid to intervene, and be joined as a party, to the RDA action given that the Judicial Review’s outcome threatens to have a material impact on its interests.
Ms. Brown, in affidavits sworn on her client’s behalf, said: “The proposed interveners [the Abaco Club’s immediate holding companies] are entities which have invested several million dollars in the Abaco community and hold significant assets therein.
“The instant action seeks to challenge the ability of the proposed interveners to continue with key aspects of their development, and it is necessary therefore for the proposed interveners to participate in the instant proceedings so as to protect their interests and rights.”
Ms. Brown added that the Little Harbour Marina would be constructed on property owned by the Abaco Club, and involved “a substantial investment” that has already been made by the developers.
RDA, meanwhile, filed court papers on February 2, 2017, as the non-profit organisation is seeking an Order that the Abaco Club disclose the Heads of Agreement signed with the Government on September 2, 2016, last year.
The RDA action is the latest development-related Judicial Review case to be launched against the Government and its regulatory agencies on the basis that they have either failed to follow their own permitting/approval processes as set out in law, and/or not properly consulted affected parties on the actions they propose to take.
The nine government respondents to the Judicial Review include Prime Minister Perry Christie; Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis; Glenys Hanna Martin, Minister of Transport and Aviation; Kenred Dorsett, Minister of the Environment; the Town Planning Committee; South Abaco District Council; Richard Hardy, acting director of Lands and Surveys; and Marques Williams, Abaco’s port administrator.
The Abaco Club is proposing to remove some existing moorings and demolish an existing dock to make way for its 44-slip facility.
This will extend some 270 feet into Little Harbour and measure 320 feet across, with supporting facilities such as a restaurant, supplies store, car park, desalination and wastewater treatment plants also set to be built.