TEMPERS flared at a town hall meeting in Vieux Fort Wednesday night which sought to dispel rumours and diffuse tension relating to the controversial Desert Star Holding project, earmarked for the town to be undertaken by Chinese billionaire Teo Ah-Khing
The meeting, was held at the Vieux-Fort Primary School in collaboration with the Vieux Fort South Constituency Council and the Office of the Prime Minister. The panellists included the Chief Veterinary Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr.Auria King-Cenac, Minister for Investment Bradley Felix, Equine Specialist, Winston Trim and a team from Invest St. Lucia which included its Chief Executive Officer McHale Andrew, Legal Counsel SeryozhaCenac and Communications Officer Daniea Augier.
Attendees demonstrated overwhelming support for the project. The meeting was attended by a large and vocal gathering which comprised both proponents and opponents of the project. Many of those who opposed the project and asked questions were prominent persons in the community. They made their points forcefully, without mincing words, and in the process annoyed others, which resulted in insults being traded across the floor. The moderator, Nicole Mc Donald, on several occasions had to intervene when the crowd became boisterous, calling for order
Julius James, a member of the Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens for Change which has been collecting names for a petition to be presented to the government calling for the renegotiation of the deal with DSH, and an ardent opponent of the project in its present form, was booed as he asked his questions. He was interrupted several times before he could complete his questions.
Other opponents of the project also asked pertinent questions, some of which the presenters could not give definite answers to. Some of their concerns related to the acquisition of lands by the master developer, the displacement of residents, the removal of the landfill, the buy- back agreement and the authenticity of the “leaked agreement”.
Responding to claims that many residents of Bruceville would be displaced when the project commences, the panellists indicated that only two people would be displaced during the first phase of the ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’.
In his presentation, Andrew, who described some of the concerns of the public as legitimate, dispelled rumours that the Vieux-Fort landfill would be relocated to Grace.
“That can’t happen. The landfill will not be relocated to Grace…, ” he said, adding that the site where the landfill is currently located will remain as a reserve area.
He added that two sites have been identified by the experts for the landfill’s relocation and after a technical analysis is done, the public will know which will be selected.
He emphasized that the first phase of the project, which will be the horse racing track, will be fully financed by the investor. He said it has nothing to do with the Citizens by Investment Project (CIP).
“Not one lot of land will be sold for a dollar…” he added.
As it relates to the acquiring of the Queen’s Chain by the investor, he said that will not happen. “Every investor must abide by the laws of St. Lucia…No one will be allowed to purchase the Queen’s Chain or put any permanent structure on it,” Andrew said.
He added that the beach will be enhanced by the developer.
Minister Bradley, in addressing the issue of whether the “leaked document” was authentic or not, said he had no idea.
“I have not seen it…I have no interest in it. I can’t say whether it’s genuine or not,” Felix said.
Trim, in his presentation said there will be three jobs per horse for horse care alone, adding that there will be numerous employment opportunities for Saint Lucians, in such areas as security, blacksmithing, landscaping, and horse cleaning, just to name a few.
He added that local horses will be integrated into the project and they will be cross bred with foreign horses.
“The race track will take us to another level…” he said.
According to Trim, anyone can become a member of a jockey club once he or she owns a horse.
In responding to a question about the size of the proposed Equine Disease Free Area, Chief Veterinary Officer, King-Cenac said: “ I can’t say how large it will be. It will depend on factors such as the physical climate, vector population, and their disease status…”
She added that the horses will be tested abroad before being allowed entry into the island.
Legal counsel for Invest Saint Lucia, Cenac, said the agreement does not surrender the ownership of lands.
He said the project is an integrated one and no other investor will be allowed to compete with the one with whom the agreement was signed before his business succeeds, explaining that two businesses of the same nature would jeopardize both investors and they would not be able to co-exist in Vieux Fort.