We are not finished with our questions regarding the Yida proposed gun factory but news about the overall project is happening so fast that we cannot focus on any one thing for any great length of time. While the developer and the politicians promised an eco-friendly project, the latest news has environmentalists bawling and holding their heads.
In case you missed the news, there is now talk of ripping out precious mangroves surrounding Guiana Island and in the heart of our marine sanctuary to make room for beaches. According to Prime Minister Browne, “The major issue with the Yida development is that we have not been able to agree on the extent of the removal of mangroves. I have to admit that Yida, initially, had planned to remove a significant amount of the mangroves and that has been the sticking point. We have since agreed to the removal of a limited amount to allow for the creation of maybe a couple of beaches. On that basis, I am told now that they are moving forward.”
The first thing that struck is the fact that YIda wanted to “remove a significant amount of the mangroves”. That tells us that this was never intended to be an eco-friendly project. What does that say about the developer and the total lack of respect for our most significant marine park? The fact that the Environmental Division and the government had to step in demonstrates that there is no self-restraint by the developer and we cannot expect any in the future. It is obvious that in their minds, their investment needs take priority and our sensitive environment is secondary; if considered at all.
Maybe it was the tone of the prime minister’s delivery but we believe that he knows that this is not a palatable idea in the minds of the people. This probably led him to reveal that Guiana Island would house a golf course. Obviously, he was trying to add a positive spin on the environmental impact when he said, “Guiana Island as an example, most of it will be a golf course in order to preserve the vegetation there.” The problem with that is, golf courses are far from environmentally friendly and are generally hated by environmentalist.
Trying to give some comfort to the environmentalist and the people that the golf course would preserve the diverse vegetation on the island is probably a well-intentioned but naïve mistake. Likely due to what may be the PM’s lack of knowledge of the impacts of golf courses on their host environments. Sure, a well maintained golf course looks great but it is what you do not see or think about that makes the difference.
One of the most damaging impacts of golf courses is the pollution of ground water and surface water. This is caused by the pesticides, fertilisers, etc, that are used to keep the grass looking pretty. Think of the impact of those chemicals on our marine environment as they leech into the surrounding waters in the heart of our near pristine marine park. Then there is issue of land erosion. Golf courses are more grass than trees and grass has limited root structures in comparison to larger shrubs and trees. Then there are the impacts on wildlife, the need for the clearing and grading of lands with the resulting modification of natural water flows, the importation of non-native grasses, etc. The point is: the list is long and unless a developer is eco-friendly and extremely sensitive to the natural environment, there is little ‘good’ and more ‘bad and ugly’.
And if you, for some unknown reason, are willing to ignore the environmental risks in the hope that the economic benefits will be tremendous, have a listen to how the project is developing. The PM said, “Within the last month, they have brought in about 40 containers. I believe that they have about 20 to 25 prefabricated homes that are being erected now and they are bringing in a significant amount of equipment in order to increase their capacity to produce aggregates and to make cement and so on.”
So, if you were hoping to get into the business of supplying just about anything to the project, think again. Based on that comment, it seems that not even cement or aggregates will be sourced in any great amount locally. And as for labour, the prefabricated methods being deployed will strip out a significant portion of the total labour that one would expect to be created on a project of this scale. And there are no guarantees that locals will even get a piece of that pie because the developer has the right to bring in the labour to erect those prefabricated houses.
Listen, we are not attempting to be anti-development or “economic terrorists”, as the PM is fond of calling anyone with a critical view, rather we are concerned citizens who are genuinely worried about the effects of this type of development in the heart of one of the most sensitive marine areas in the region. We also have to question whether this developer has Antigua & Barbuda’s best interest in their hearts. If any of this goes wrong, there is no do-over. If the fish stop spawning and the crystal blue waters turn brown, finger pointing will be useless because by then, it would be too late.