Land clearing at the Western Imperial Special Economic Zone (WISEZ) has been stopped by the Development Control Authority (DCA).
Environment Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph told Observer on Wednesday that the authority has ordered a halt on activities there to allow the investors to provide additional information.
He was not clear about the type of information that had been requested and calls to reach DCA’s Town and Country Planner, Fredrick Southwell, went unanswered.
The DCA had allowed the developers to work in the area after they submitted a special application. The application was granted ahead of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which is needed to allow the Environment Department, Fisheries and DCA to collectively determine the type of development that is feasible in the area.
Almost 550 acres of countryside between Jennings and Five Islands have been earmarked for the country’s second Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
Developers plan to build hotels, shops, theme parks, a cryptocurrency centre, casino, private homes, a financial district, warehouses, hospitals and universities.
Sometime between September and October 2020, they began clearing trees in the Seaforth area.
The clearing has attracted protests and most recently a petition which has gained more than 1,500 signatures calling for a second look into the project and the impact it will have on the environment.
Sir Molwyn spoke of having a face-to-face discussion with the initiator of the petition which he claimed was creating a false impression of the impact on the Seaforth area.
“Many of the things are not at all factual. They are creating the impression that there are far-reaching negative impact activities taking place down Seaforth,” the minister said.
Sir Molwyn also believes that the actions that prompted the petition are political, implying that the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) was involved.
But the petition was launched by architectural technologist Raul Samuel who said his intention is to see the creation of better laws to dictate land development in Antigua.
He also dispelled the notion that he is a politically motivated individual, telling Observer, “I am not backed, or supported, or motivated by any party or any other person.
“I am in fact capable of independent thought and independent action and that petition was an example of such independent thought and independent action as a citizen taking action on a matter which I thought needed to be highlighted in the public.
“I am not a member of the UPP or any political party and I’ve never been. I am citizen Raul Samuel who is taking action on my own accord against something that I am not very much in favour with.”
Samuel also said that he was open to dialogue with the minister.
“I would relish an opportunity to meet with him if he so chooses and it would be me – Raul Samuel singular – attending such meeting,” he noted.
In addition to the stop order, Minister Joseph also told Observer that he has asked the DCA to organise a public consultation “as quickly as possible”.
“I have said to DCA that they must schedule that consultation. I am looking forward to that consultation because it is important for the general public and the communities to understand how we can balance the interest of the community and at the same time provide development,” Joseph said.
Samuel noted however that consultation after the fact is one of the major problems with such developments.
But Sir Molwyn insists that residents living in the affected communities should not be worried as the development will be sustainable and create employment.
“I would have my say about Seaforth because it is in my constituency and I can assure you that nothing will happen in Seaforth that will violate the environmental practices that are consistent with sustainability in Antigua and Barbuda,” he added.
The government expects that about 400 jobs will be created through the development of the SEZ.