By Gemma Handy
Plans to create two vast luxury homes on the fringes of Barbuda’s world-famous bird sanctuary have sparked an outcry among residents on the sister isle.
The proposed development at Cedar Tree Point in the north-west of the island spans almost 114 acres, 98 of them comprising a so-called ‘security buffer’ which would place the site off limits to Barbudans.
It is the latest controversy to erupt over development on the 62-square-mile island, once again putting many locals at odds with wealthy foreign investors.
The plans are outlined in an environmental impact assessment (EIA) carried out earlier this month and released online by the Department of the Environment (DoE).
The first home, dubbed the Abercorn Residence, would be a sprawling 15,000 square feet consisting of several small wood-frame structures. The second – even larger at 16,000 square feet – is named the DeJoria residence and would be built in three to four years if given the green light.
The latter is believed to be for John Paul DeJoria, the billionaire entrepreneur who is one of the developers behind the controversial Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) project.
And just like the PLH scheme, the two private properties would also encroach on land protected under the RAMSAR Convention, which deems the area’s wetlands to be of international importance.
The EIA states there are no plans to alter the coastal lagoon where the island’s frigate birds nest.
But that is of little consolation to Barbuda Council members who say they only learned of the plans when the report was posted on the DoE’s website and Facebook page.
Devon Warner told Observer the Council was writing to the department demanding clarity.
“We are very uncomfortable with the plans for the area, it being a RAMSAR site and being as close as it is to the bird sanctuary.
“The buffer zones would have significant effects on the livelihoods of the people who fish and do tours in the area. People would not be allowed to practice their trade in those areas,” he claimed.
“It seems to be the mantra of the government now to do things and not consult the people or the Council which is the legal representative on island,” Warner added.
Council secretary Paul Nedd told Observer the body was “not in support of any construction in that area”.
And Council chair Calsey Beazer-Joseph confirmed she had received no prior information about the development, despite the application being submitted to the Development Control Authority (DCA) nine months ago.
Local marine biologist John Mussington claims the development will compromise sandbars which provide Codrington with vital protection from storms.
“There has been no consultation with the people of Barbuda; we didn’t know anything about it. The first I am hearing or seeing of this is after the EIA was completed. That is totally against all principles in terms of how EIAs are supposed to be conducted,” he alleged.
Mussington said the process defied the principles of the lauded Escazu Agreement which Antigua and Barbuda ratified earlier this year.
“The Escazu Agreement puts emphasis on the participation of the public and the public’s right to know, and to have their input considered from the planning stage. For me that EIA is totally null and void,” he said.
Vocal environmentalist Mussington also has fears for the wellbeing of the special wildlife that thrive in the ecologically sensitive locale.
“The area in question is zoned as a critical sea turtle nesting area and they always return to lay their eggs on the same beach where they hatched as babies. If that beach no longer exists, then you can imagine what happens to the species,” he explained.
“Right next door is the frigate bird sanctuary which is the keynote species for tourism in Barbuda. What we are facing is a development taking place right on the doorstep of this major bird sanctuary which serves the entire western hemisphere.
“Here it is you have this rich guy who decides he wants to have his personal house right where such an important species lives. The danger is that he’s going to run them away – and why should we allow that?” Mussington added.
In its online posts, the DoE is calling for the public to review the plans and offer feedback. Officials could not be reached for further comment up to press time.
The EIA notes that Cedar Tree Point is part of the Codrington Lagoon National Park where “development is not encouraged”. It states there will be minimal impact on the bird sanctuary but recommends the colony be monitored to ensure that. It also says the impact on Barbuda’s socio-cultural life will be “small”.
Deborah Brosnan, whose eponymous consultation company carried out the assessment, declined to comment when contacted.