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The Nassau Guardian
Wilchcombe quells concerns at meeting
by Keva Lightbourne
May 28, 2005
North Bimini - There will be no gate.
That was the message Minister of Tourism, and Member of Parlament for the West End and Bimini constituency Obie Wilchcombe delivered to Biminites on Thursday night as he addressed concerns about the Bimini Bay project at a three-and-a-half hour heated town meeting, which at times erupted into a shouting and finger pointing match.
The meeting, held at the Bimini All Age School, came three days after residents staged a massive protest in front of the gate which they claim denies them access to five miles of the seven mile long island, including East Wells Beach.
Also attending the meeting were Minister of Public Works and Utilities, Bradley Roberts, Financial Services and Investment minister Allyson Maynard-Gibson; Transport and Aviation Minister Glynnis Hanna-Martin; Agriculture, Fisheries and Local Government minister Alfred Gray, along with Chariman of the Best Commission and Ambassador for the Environment Keod Smith.
"If Mr. (Gerardo) Capo (Bimini Bay developer) says the gate is not supposed to be closed, the matter is very simple to me, as of tomorrow, (Friday) the gate will be wide open, it won't be closed. There will be no gate," Mr. Wilchcombe said.
His statement drew loud applause from the estimated 500 residents who attended the meeting. The gate was referred to as the "Wall of Jericho."
In his attempt to clarify the situation, Mr. Capo denied that residents were turned away from the area. "We never closed the gate to any Bahamian," he stressed.
Bimini Bay Development President Rafael Reyes explained that there is no gate, but an entry way is being created. "It is an entrance feature, it's only a beauty feature. All it is a big arch. You (residents) have free access to that arch. There is no gate and we are not putting any gates there," he emphasised.
Once the gate is fully created he said residents will realise that there will be no barrier or divider between the development and the people.
Further, Mr. Reyes said the development will in no way interfere with the Wells area. He denied rumours that they had bought that property.
"Right now, to have access into East Wells, we have to wait till low tide, and walk through those mangroves. We made the access into that area even easier for the people. We created a road that takes you through the project and directly into East Wells," Mr. Reyes said.
Mr. Reyes said from the beginning it was known that the beach would be accessible to the public. He said 50-feet dividers were placed at the end of every seven homes to ensure that residents would have access to the beach.
Accordingly, Minister Maynard-Gibson said beach access is uncompromising for the government. She assured that there would be no restrictions to the beaches.
Not satisfied with the answers, Local Government council member Lloyd Edgecombe continued to push for more explanations. "If there is no intention to create a barrier, why the developers sought to have an application approved for the construction of the gate and security checkpoint in Nassau when the council had already denied the application?" he questioned.
Reportedly, the Local Government council denied the application in December last year, but on Jan. 7, the application got the stamp of approval from the Ministry of Works.
"There is no way that should have happened," Mr. Edgecombe said, turning to Minister Roberts for an explanation.
A shouting match between the two men erupted. In the end, Minister Roberts claimed: "Town Planning, which is an independent body, took the decision on that matter." He said the matter had nothing to do with the Minister of Works. But residents were quick to add that Town Planning came under his portfolio.
Captain Jerome Stuart, suggested that government "stake off" what belongs to Bahamians. He warned that if the matter were not dealt with immediately, demonstrations would continue.
Residents also raised environmental concerns. They fear that the creation of a golf course would be to the detriment of sensitive areas.
It was disclosed, however, that the project would not be able to proceed beyond Phase 1 without adequate environmental assessment.
The project had been significantly scaled down from its original 930 hotel room, 3,500 condos and 611 single-family homes, to a 410-hotel room, 1080 condos and 440 single family homes and 200 time-share units, specifically because of environmental concerns.
Government officials felt that the development in its original design was just too much for the small island.
The Bimini Bay Development, which sits on 750 acres, is the anchor project on the island and it is expected to have significant economic impact not only for the island residents, but also for residents of Grand Bahama and Abaco.
Already 75 residential units have been completed, with 100 more projected to be completed by the end of the year. Also under construction is a 140-slip marina, of which 60 have been completed with the remainder scheduled for completion within 60 to 90 days.
And, while residents have not actually voiced any concerns against the development, they are adamant that they will not be treated as "second class citizens" in their own country, by being dictated to as to where they can and cannot go.
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