EDITOR, The Tribune.
THE following is an open letter from Eric Carey, former executive director of The Bahamas National Trust (BNT), a non-profit, non-government, membership organisation focused on conserving and protecting the Bahamian environment. Mr Carey now leads ONE Consultants, an independent environmental consultancy that has been engaged by Atlantis to review the environmental impact of the proposed Royal Caribbean beach club project.
I have followed with great interest the discussions about Royal Caribbean’s proposed beach club project for the western end of Paradise Island. I want to be very clear in stating that I do not support the project and have serious misgivings about its value to The Bahamas. Ever since the project was introduced years ago, I felt this was not a project that should get government approval because of significant environmental risks and considerations. I have since reviewed the initial Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for this proposed project, which has in no way lessened my concerns.
Firstly, the site contains the last remnant pockets of native coastal forests on Paradise Island. And as this is Crown land, we should be looking to protect this last vestige of native plants on Paradise Island, rather than replace it with non-native vegetation. I also have concerns about the proposed development’s carrying capacity to service thousands of cruise passengers at the site every day. The quantity of solid waste to be added to the landfill will be significant. Who will bear the environmental cost of these impacts? The Bahamian consumer whose taxes fund the management of the landfill?
One of my greatest concerns is how the proposed project will deal with the management of their sewage for so many people on such a small site. It is my understanding that there are three options available to the developer.
• First, is the use of a pressurised line that would pump the raw sewage across the harbour to a facility on Nassau. This option is fraught with issues. It would require strict controls, daily comparative metering readings at each end of the line along with full-time line pressure and differential pressure remote monitoring. This is the only way to ensure that the line has not been compromised. A breach would result in a serious environmental issue of raw sewage entering the harbour and spreading to nearby businesses and recreational areas. Junkanoo Beach, The Pointe Marina, Arawak Cay vendors, Potters Cay vendors, Bay Street Hurricane Hole and Atlantis Marinas, and all other waterfront businesses including restaurants, could find themselves impacted by raw sewage.
• The second option is a wastewater treatment plant. The great concern of this option is what happens if the plant fails and then cannot safely treat the sewage. Sewage disposal presents a huge challenge, pumping and hauling by truck will not be an option because there is no road access to the site.
• The third option is the use of a septic system with a deep disposal well. This is perhaps the easiest and most cost-effective way of disposing of the property’s sewage. The typical use of these deep disposal wells in New Providence is to dispose of raw, untreated sewage by injecting it directly into the ground. This option also presents significant environmental risk because limestone is porous. The fact that the island is very narrow at the proposed project site means that injection wells would be immediately adjacent to the ocean and sewage will find its way into the ocean. Significant negative impacts would soon be noticed in both the harbour as well as offshore along the northern coast. Heading east, the first to be impacted would be the beaches of Atlantis and RIU, followed shortly by the Ocean Club. Heading west, colonial beach, colonial reef and the seven-mile reef that is part of the Southwest Marine Managed MPA are all vulnerable to effluent outflow.
To date, Royal Caribbean has not presented its plans to manage sewage at its proposed beach club. So, it is impossible for us to analyse the ultimate environmental impact of the proposed project. To move forward without this required due diligence would be reckless, putting the future of Paradise Island at risk.
In addition, the EIA notes numerous small beaches that they reference as “pocket” beaches occurring on the North Shore. There is a recommendation to modify some of these beaches to enhance the visitor experience. This rocky shore is an important feature of the natural coastline of that part of the island. It is my view that any attempt to alter it, especially if it includes engineered structures, could have significant negative impacts. Such interventions could impact the natural flow of sand along the beach, and negatively impact other beaches in the area. This includes Colonial Beach to the west, and the healthy colonial reef located just offshore there. Easterly, Cabbage beach, and all the resort properties there that depend on this world-class healthy beach system could see significant negative changes in their beach profiles. There are numerous examples around The Bahamas of how beaches have been destroyed by altering the coastline. One need not look any further than Cable Beach to see where interference with the beach profile has resulted in significant and nearly irreparable damage to the natural beach profile there.
In sharing my perspective, I want to make it clear that I am not opposed to all aspects of the cruise industry, and that despite its large carbon footprint, the industry is an important part of our tourism landscape. Many Bahamians depend on the industry to make a living. Notwithstanding this, I believe that as a country, we need to do a better job of negotiating more favourable terms of engagement with the cruise industry. We need to better leverage the natural capital that is provided by the Bahamian environment. Cruise lines use our environment to make billions of dollars, therefore we should strive for a more equitable, sustainable business arrangement.
I am watching this project with great interest to see how it progresses through the approval process. If it does proceed, I trust the environmental concerns raised by myself and others are effectively addressed by the relevant environmental regulatory agencies. The Deputy Prime Minister in his statements has promised broad public consultation.
I encourage all Bahamians who have environmental concerns about this project to take advantage of the opportunity to have your views included in the Government’s consideration of this project.
March 18, 2023.
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