Government documents obtained in a Journal investigation speak to the widespread environmental degradation officials say was caused by the Sandyport Development in western New Providence.
But Sandyport owner Hugh Buckner told the Journal that it must not be overlooked that since the late 1970's he has secured all the requisite approvals from the relevant government agencies.
A Bahamas Environment Science and Technology (BEST) Commission report reveals that most of the wetlands in the area have been destroyed as a result of the development.
The report was completed in compliance with the National Economic Council's directive which "invited the Minister of Health to cause the BEST Commission, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Works and Utilities and the Department of Physical Planning, to undertake a full review of the Sandyport development."
The wetland ecosystem at the development is approximately 98 percent destroyed and with the remaining wetland being slated for destruction all waterfowl habitat in that area will be lost, the report said.
"Due to the advanced stage of the Sandyport development and the destruction of approximately 98 percent of the wetlands, there is no benefit to the environment should the project be stopped," the report said, "unless extensive restoration attempts were made for the wetlands habitat which at this point is not a practical solution."
But Mr. Buckner on Tuesday insisted that his development has not been bad for the environment.
"We have the full permission of the Bahamas government to do what we've been doing," he said. "Maybe the different departments should start talking to each other."
He also said that any information that his development has caused the destruction of 98 percent of wetlands in the area is erroneous.
Mr. Buckner said that while the environment may have changed as a result of his development, it has changed for the better.
"It's very beautiful and super," he said of the environment at Sandyport. "I'm amazed at this complete ignorance and nonsense [of some people]."
BEST also documents a refuse-dumping problem at Sandyport.
"Since the verbal requests to remove the refuse and dispose of it at the sanitary landfill were not heeded, a public health order was served on 9th September 2003," the report added. "If the problem is not rectified, then a submittal for prosecution will be made. It should be noted that The Bahamas is a signatory to the RAMSAR Convention which has a mandate for the protection and wise-use of waterfowl habitat."
The broad aim of the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands is to halt the worldwide loss of wetlands and to conserve those that remain through wise use and management.
The document also notes that the presence of solid waste and its reuse for fill at the site is a violation of the Environmental Health Act and posses a potential health issue as the decomposition of the trash will result in flammable gases seeping from the ground.
Last September, a group of inspectors from within the Ministry of Health and Environment toured the development and documented that several large mounds of contaminated fill (soil and garbage) were present on the eastern portion of the development.
But Mr. Buckner said that outsiders have been dumping at the site, a claim the report acknowledged.
The report supports claims that have been made in recent weeks by the Coalition To Save Clifton, an environmental group led by Senate Vice President Rev. C. B. Moss, who recently challenged Mr. Buckner, to "stop dodging and come clean" about his development.
The BEST report said, "Impacts to the groundwater may be created due to the apparent bulk heading of the marina only to the water level in some areas."
But Mr. Buckner said, "That is quite untrue."
In the latest phase of the development, Sandyport executives are seeking to build a road. According to Lawrence Glinton, supervisor of construction for the Sandyport development who was named in the report, a portion of the wetland has been designated for a 40-foot road.
The report said that minimal healthy wetland areas remain on site, the most significant area running along West Bay Street from behind a nearby church to the limits of the Super Value property.
The BEST Commission report recommends that "the wetland system at the boundary of West Bay Street be maintained and restored and the proposed road either eliminated or realigned if possible to accommodate the entire east-west wetland area from Super Value to the back of the church to be preserved."
It also said, "The bulk heading of the marina areas to the east of the property may have profound flooding implications for the residents of Skyline Drive subdivision and Gambier as it may prevent the natural underground water flow during heavy rains and hurricanes. It should be noted that Sandyport wetlands were the natural exist for large volumes of water to the sea prior to the construction of the Sandyport development."
Indicating that flooding relief should be provided to residents who live near Sandyport, the report adds that, "alternatives to the hard bulk heading on the eastern boundaries should be investigated to avoid exacerbating the flooding of residences surrounding Sandyport and provisions should be made to facilitate any upstream storm water, particularly from the east and west of the development."
Mr. Buckner pointed out that, "There are probably three public highways, not one of them has a drain. The road to Super Value was built before our development and there is no drain."
In 1976, Sandyport Development Company Limited was granted approval to purchase approximately 142 acres of land to sub-divide and resell as multi and single-family lots. A condition of the approval was that the Sandyport Bridge, at the junction of West Bay Street, be constructed before the first lot was sold. The bridge is in place and, to date, Sandyport has sold a total of 350 multi and single-family lots.
Sandyport recently completed a $48.9 million shopping centre called Olde Towne, which includes 22 retail spaces owned primarily by small Bahamian businesses, restaurants, office space and approximately 50 apartments.
In August 1994, the National Economic Council granted approval for Sandyport Marina Beach Club and Resorts Limited to construct a timeshare and hotel resort.
A memo to Prime Minister Perry Christie from the Ministry of Financial Services and Investments said, "Regarding the environmental impact of the Sandyport Development, the BEST Commission has advised that the Sandyport Development was approved prior to the creation of the BEST Commission and thus no Environmental Impact Assessment would have been done.
"Various government agencies would have issued permits for work to begin. The BEST Commission recommends that a review be done of the conditions listed on the permits issued by the Department of Physical Planning and Ministry of Works and Utilities."
But Mr. Buckner insisted that his company conducted an EIA that addressed all environmental concerns and the government accepted that Sandyport would not have posed a significant threat to the environment.