Grand Bahamian Gregg Waugh, of the National Marine Fisheries Service(NMFS), Office of Science and Technology (a division of NOAA ) spoke Thursday, Aug 3, at the Rotary Club of Freeport about the impact of mega-developments on the Bahamas.
 

MEGA DEVELOPMENTS.GOOD FOR THE BAHAMAS?

Presentation by: Gregg T. Waugh
Rotary Club of Freeport, August 3, 2006

Introduction

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss a very important issue with you today.  First I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my father, Harold "Sonny" Waugh, for instilling a deep respect for our Bahamian environment in me and my brothers and sister as we grew up in West End and then Bahama Shores.  He and my mother, the late Alice Bowman Waugh, taught us a deep sense of responsibility which now brings me before you today.  I would also like to thank my wife Lisa for her support and for being my sounding board and editor.

My credentials

First I would like to take just a few minutes to talk about my background and training.  This is not to "swell my head" or "blow my own horn" for as my parents taught me "self-praise is no accolade at all". 

I grew up roaming all over West End.  Anthony and Elsworth and my brothers, Godfrey and Brian and I, as we got older, could be anywhere within a 2-3 mile radius of the West End Service Center.  We had a sling-shot season, sea grape season, prickly pear season, and so on.  Each season was directly linked to what was happening in our environment.  As I got older we had many camping trips to Wood Key and Sandy Key with Jeff Butler providing the boat, Mike Miles the food, and me the gas.

I was a part of the first group of boarders at St. Augustine's College in Nassau.  Only two of us, Peter Hepburn and I, survived our four years on Fox Hill.  I have a Bachelor of Science degree from the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida with a major in biological sciences.  My Masters of Science degree is in biological oceanography with a major in fisheries from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida.  For the past 26 years I have worked for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council based in Charleston, South Carolina.  I was responsible for writing fishery management plans for spiny lobster, snapper grouper species, swordfish, mackerels, etc.  I have also written Environmental Impact Statements and Assessments for the past 26 years.  [Note:  These are my comments alone and do not reflect the opinion of the South Atlantic Council nor do they reflect the opinion of my family's business, Waugh Construction.]

All of this is to establish that I am familiar with the Bahamian environment and I am professionally qualified to discuss this topic.

What's All the Fuss About?

Now let's get to the meat of my talk today.  Mega Developments - - Are they good for the Bahamas?  First I want to state that I am not against development.  We need jobs and we need foreign investment for the Bahamian economy to grow and prosper.  However, we MUST have a plan for sustainable development and not a catch as catch can approach.

There are two questions each of us should ask when discussing mega developments - - they can be called the two W's:

1. Where is all the water coming from?

2. Where is all the waste going?

These two questions demonstrate the basic nature of Mega Developments - - that they in fact act like huge animals both consuming natural resources (inputs) and producing positive and negative results (outputs).

Examples of inputs include:

1. Crown land;

2. Trees;

3. Mangroves;

4. Limited fresh water;

5. Fresh water ponds;

6. Sand; and

7. Limited estuaries that produce our crawfish and fish not to mention land crabs.        

Examples of positive outputs include:

1. Jobs that employ Bahamians;

2. Work permit fees and other fees associated with construction;

3. Income to government in the form of taxes and import duties; and

4. Increased prosperity to Bahamians.

Examples of negative outputs include:

1. Jobs that do not employ Bahamians;

2. Loss of open land;

3. Loss of mangroves and estuaries;

4. Human waste;

5. Fertilizer run-off from golf courses and landscaping;

6. Potential loss of our cultural heritage; and

7. Degradation of our environment.

I could spend our entire time together today talking about the positive and negative impacts of each input and output but then I would be describing the Environmental Impact Statement/Assessment.  Rather I would like to talk about what our role should be in the process of evaluating each Mega Development.  I say "our" role because we cannot and must not sit back and say or let "The Government" take care of this.  WE are the government and we MUST get involved.

Currently our governmental representatives meet in private with developers and evaluate the positive and negative impacts of a Mega Development.  The demands of the developers are balanced with what the government is willing to give them to gain more jobs and income for us, the people of the Bahamas.  Environmental Assessments are required and prepared/reviewed/approved by the Bahamas Environmental Science and Technology Commission (BEST).  Is this working?  I would venture to say no given all the negative press and social unrest associated with a number of Mega Developments in the Bahamas.  Internationally recognized experts such as Dr. Samuel Gruber of the University of Miami disagree with the conclusions of the Bimini Environmental Assessment, and there are vast efforts directed at reversing approval or modifying some Mega Developments.  Many times we the people cannot or do not have the environmental assessment documents being used to evaluate a project.  Further, we the people are not involved in a meaningful way during the evaluation and approval phase.

I would suggest that an alternative approach be developed for use in the Bahamas based in large part on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the U.S.  When a project that will impact the environment is proposed, an Environmental Impact Statement or Assessment (two different levels of analyses) is prepared.  A developer, or the government for projects proposed by the government, hires experts to prepare the necessary analyses and documents.  All the benefits and costs/impacts of the project are analyzed using credible scientific techniques.  The draft documents are then made available to the public, and a number of public meetings/hearings are held to allow concerned citizens to voice their opinions either in favor of or against the proposed project.  The public is encouraged to provide written comments.  The draft proposal is also published in the Federal Register (a national publication where all legal notices are published).

The draft Environmental Impact Statement must then be revised to address all concerns raised during the public comment period and the Final Environmental Impact Statement must again be published in the Federal Register.  The government agency granting approval of the project is subject to litigation if someone/some organization does not feel the analyses are accurate or adequately address all the concerns/impacts.

Is this process as it operates in the U.S. perfect?  Hardly, but can anyone say they did not have an adequate opportunity to comment in a meaningful way during the evaluation process?  Definitely not!  This alone would be a vast improvement over the current situation in the Bahamas.

Conclusions

What should we as Bahamians do?  Well for one "ya could sit around wringin ya hand dem".  On the other hand, I think it is up to each one of us to accept our shared responsibility for the current and future condition of our environment.  As a young boy I used to "tief one rubber tube from my old man gas station and tie one croka sak in da middle.  Den we jump off da Esso dock and before we get to Dr. Rickter or da telecom station, we done get all de conch we could drag back to da dock".  I want my grandchildren to be able to have a similar experience diving conch in West End and throughout the Bahamas.  And to do that I must get involved, and I will be involved.

So what can you do?

1. Join environmental groups:

a. EARTHCARE - right here in Grand Bahama; talk to Gail Woon, Executive Director.

b. RE-EARTH - in Nassau talk to Sam Duncombe, Executive Director.

c. Bahamas National Trust - based out of Nassau but with Parks throughout the Bahamas; Christopher Hamilton is the Executive Director.

2. Educate yourself on environmental issues.  The Bahamas Journal of Science produced by Neil Sealey is an excellent start.  The May 2002 issue was devoted to the impacts of development on Bimini.  The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) are two additional sources of educational materials and information.

3. Talk to your political representatives including the Prime Minister.  Tell them we want an open and participatory process.  Tell them we want laws passed to provide us, the people of the Bahamas, a role in evaluating projects that will impact our environment.  I truly believe that these Mega Developments carry impacts that are far beyond the purview of any government whether it be the PLP, FNM, or XYZ.  We the people should be weighing the pros and cons and deciding the future condition of our environment.

4. Immediately push for public disclosure of all Environmental Assessment documents BEFORE a Mega Development can begin.

5. Insist on sustainable development over the long-term rather than focus on the short-term "what's in it for me, now" mentality.

6. Discuss these issues with your partner, your children, your family, your friends, and our visitors. Encourage them to get involved.

Maintaining the quality of life we have in the Bahamas is a shared responsibility.  Each of us MUST get involved or we will lose what to me is a core part of our cultural heritage - - our beautiful waters and bountiful natural resources.