THE proposed multi-billion dollar development project earmarked for Beausejour, Vieux Fort serves as just another example of how tight a rope we walk when it comes to eking out a survival in a dog-eat-dog world. In fact, it forces us to take a second, closer look at the beauty that surrounds us – and appreciate it.
In most – if not all – large-scale development, there is often some level of compromise that must be made whenever areas of conflict are concerned. Not surprisingly, quite a few concerns have been raised about Desert Star Holdings Ltd. (DSH)’s US$2.6 billion international standard integrated development, most of which are well-placed.
That the project falls within the southern quadrant of the island where unemployment has been chronically high can well be Lady Luck’s doing. Nevertheless, the catch-22 facing many Vieux Fortians is whether despite all the concerns put forward, the south actually stands to benefit in a great tangible way from the development. Are they giving away more than they can get?
Clearly, the two main concerns being ventilated in the media thus far have to do with the level of due diligence being done before DSH can progress with the project and the environmental impact of the project itself.
On the surface, the project seems like just the kind of investment the island needs to trigger some level of economic growth that we can actually boast about. In fact, Invest St. Lucia’s CEO, Mc Hale Andrew, has indicated that most of the labour component for the project will be provided by Saint Lucians. If true, many Saint Lucians will get the chance to show their high level of skills while earning a salary.
When completed, “Pearl of the Caribbean”, which will comprise about 700 acres of prime land, will employ many Saint Lucians at various levels, many of whom will expectedly come from Vieux Fort and environs. The project will, in a big way, erase the imbalance in the hotel plant which currently has most of its properties in the north.
Aside from the economic pluses, however, there are also the legitimate concerns that relate to the environment, including the sanctity of the Mankote Mangrove, where the mangrove ecosystem is liable to be at risk. Mangroves play a crucial role in protecting vulnerable coastlines from wave action by holding the soil together, thereby preventing coastal erosion. This critical function results in inland areas being shielded during storms, thus minimizing damage.
But mangroves also provide homes for many species of animal and plant life. Their often close proximity to coral reefs and sandy beaches augurs well for tourist attractions, too. In Bonaire, for example, snorkeling expeditions in and around mangroves are offered to tourists who get to see a variety of colourful fish species.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has said that government has made a few tweaks here and there to accommodate DSH’s project becoming a reality. Such tweaks include amending the Citizenship by Investment Act to accomodate key aspects of the project in current categories and expediting the processing time for applications after requisite approvals have been granted.
Therefore, DSH, too, needs to make a few concessions, including tweaking their plans to incorporate in Mankote Mangrove into the project and allow it to remain in its present organic state. As beautiful as the Mankote Mangrove is, there must be some value added to the project by having such a beautiful area in its unspoiled state to be explored by tourists and Saint Lucians alike.
As critical as economic development is, there is no denying that while dollars come and go, we still need to preserve the place where we call home. Future generations would be robbed of the wonderful scenery and other qualities of our island’s landscape if we simply squander every remnant of beauty at the behest of the much-needed dollar.
Eight years ago, Soufriere was the epicentre of some fiery words after the government was accused of “dropping the ball” in granting an Alien’s Land Holding Licence to an Italian couple – the Mignuccis – to acquire property in the controversial Pitons Management Area (PMA). The Development Control Authority (DCA) was also cited for displaying poor judgment.
To vent its frustration, the Civil Society Network (CSN), spearheaded by a then firebrand Flavia Cherry, organized a protest march in Soufriere on the afternoon of Friday, September 5, 2008. With a handful of protesters by her side, Cherry’s battle seemed futile as she tried her best to stay cool while facing down nearly a hundred counter-protesters.
Project workers on the Mignucci home, led by their local contractor, were armed with placards that spoke directly to bread and butter issues: “Flavia is an Opportunist”, “Who will feed our families?”, “Tell Cabinet no to Hyder Report”, “Cherry, what’s your motive?”, and “We want jobs, jobs, jobs”. Some placards were even splashed with obscenities, both in English and kweyol.
“This protest is not just about marching,” Cherry told her supporters via microphone. “It is to send a signal that the people of Saint Lucia are fed up and we are willing to get up and stand up to rescue Fair Helen from certain death.”
First-term Soufriere MP, Harold Dalsan, who stood on the sidelines for fear of the event being portrayed as political, told me in a brief interview that day that there were some concerns about the Mignucci project that needed to be addressed.
“We have never asked for the construction to stop,” Dalsan said. “All we are saying is that there needs to be some oversight as to what is actually going on in terms of silt mitigation, preservation of the environment, deforestation and the possibility of them coming up with artifacts that may have tremendous archaeological value.”
One would hope that the current administration, Invest St. Lucia and the DCA do all within their power to allay the fears of Saint Lucians who still have an environmentally-sound conscience. While the DSH deal appears to be a “done deal”, no amount of effort should be spared to ensure that we not lose the beauty of the natural environment for the sake of massive concrete structures.
Still on the question of the environment, it would be fruitful if Saint Lucians were furnished with a comprehensive study of the environmental impact on the marine and plant life following the construction of the Pigeon Island Causeway after Pigeon Island was artificially joined to the mainland in 1972.
Built from silt excavated to form the Rodney Bay Marina, Pigeon Island Causeway now leads to one of the most picturesque and iconic landmarks on the island, Pigeon Island. Sometimes what appears to be a curse today turns out to be a blessing tomorrow, and vice versa.
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department released a statement in which Saint Lucia was ranked sixth among Caribbean islands with the most U.S. direct investments. The ranking is listed in the annual Investment Climate Statements for 2016 and reports that Saint Lucia benefitted from direct investments worth US$230 million last year, a 41.1% increase over 2014. Countries that benefitted from more US direct investment last year were Bermuda, British Caribbean Islands, Barbados, Curacao and the Dominican Republic. If you asked me, Saint Lucia deserves more.
With the massive wealth at DSH’s Chairman, Teo Ah Khing’s disposal, he’s in the enviable position of seeking out other regional territories where he can invest. But while choosing Saint Lucia is definitely a blessing in many regards, any such investment must be made wisely. As small and vulnerable as Saint Lucia is – both from the impacts of bad environmental and economic decisions – we must ensure that attracting big business here today does not leave us grappling with even bigger problems tomorrow.