By Gemma Handy
Unrest once again erupted at the site of Barbuda’s controversial Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) development yesterday when Council members attempted to enter to gauge compliance with environmental guidelines.
Dozens of Barbudans descended on Palmetto Point on Friday morning, a fortnight after developers were given a five-day deadline to correct a string of violations, said to include putting critical wetlands at risk and damaging historic sand dunes which help protect the island against storm surges.
The turbulent scenes resulted in the arrest of the Barbuda Council’s Paul Nedd and Devon Warner, who were both apparently charged with trespass and breaking Covid rules by not wearing facemasks. It is the second time Nedd has been arrested at the site in two months.
Warner told Observer the Barbuda Council wanted to view progress on the remedial works recently ordered by the Development Control Authority (DCA). The DCA’s move followed a recommendation from the Department of Environment (DOE) that a stop order be issued on the luxury resort project.
Developers were instructed to immediately restore wetland mitigation areas, historic dunes and palmetto vegetation.
“It is our responsibility as the Barbuda Council and Barbudans to intervene to ensure the guidelines are followed,” Warner said.
“It is impossible for members of the Barbuda Council to trespass on properties that are leased by the Barbuda Council. We are the lessor which means we have a right to venture on the property to observe what is happening,” he continued.
Warner claims the pair were denied entry by security upon arrival.
“So we said, if you’re not going to be reasonable we will forcefully enter and observe,” he said.
Warner said himself and Council Secretary Nedd attempted to access a beach on the peninsula by road, at which point they were blocked by police.
“They refused to let us continue to see what’s happening on our beach. It is grossly disrespectful. I am very disturbed that a peaceful demonstration resulted in the arrest of two key members of the Barbuda Council,” Warner said.
He continued that a series of lakes recently created by PLH “less than a quarter mile from the beach” is a “disaster waiting to happen” in the event of a storm.
“It means that area could be washed away and the water could come all the way up into Codrington as happened during Irma, so we are very fearful,” Warner said.
“Our intention is to shut PLH down completely in that area,” he vowed. “The Barbuda Council will not allow the livelihoods of the people of Barbuda to be destroyed for the sake of a developer or greedy politicians.”
He added that it was vital to protect the sister isle’s fisheries and wetlands, which are protected by the RAMSAR Convention, deeming them to be of international importance.
Warner claimed scores of Barbudans went to the site yesterday in a show of protest and to demand money he said PLH owes the Council. However, a PLH spokesman alleged many of the residents were there in the mistaken belief that the company would pay them money to assist them in light of “outstanding Council wages”.
“I feel sorry for them,” the spokesman told Observer.
“They came to the site and were there for around 30 minutes. We ensured there was no conflict and they were asked to leave, which they all did except two who were arrested.
“This is an active construction site which means it is dangerous and we didn’t have any other option,” he said.
The spokesman added that PLH had responded to the DCA’s letter within three days of receipt and had begun remedial work “according to an established plan” and in sync with a “full-time independent environmental consultant who has been with us on site for the last two weeks”.
Chief Environmental Officer Diann Black-Layne, who wrote the letter recommending the stop order, confirmed developers had sent a response to government, but added that her department was yet to receive it.
The massive development, set to feature up to 400 luxury homes and a golf course at Palmetto Point, has been plagued by controversy from the outset amid fears of its impact on the area’s fragile ecosystem which includes one of the world’s largest nesting sites for frigate birds.
Earlier this month, government announced plans for full-time environmental monitors to be positioned at all major development sites in the country to ensure compliance.
Police could not be reached to confirm the charges laid on Nedd and Warner up to press time.