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By Elesha George

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Chinese firm Yida has denied unlawfully destroying mangroves at its development site in Crabbs Peninsula.

In a statement received yesterday, the group said it “wishes to make it absolutely clear that it is not engaged in any such activity”. It claimed it is “carrying out landscaping work consistent with the best environmental practices”.

“The company continues to abide by all relevant laws of Antigua and Barbuda and any relevant directives from any appropriate governmental authority,” the investment group added.

Last weekend, controversy hit after a fisherman videoed what appeared to be mangroves being smothered at the site.

All species of mangroves are listed as protected plants under the Environmental Protection Act of 2019, though last year the government sanctioned the removal of mangroves at the development with the expectation that the company would replant thousands of trees to replace them.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne said at the time that Cabinet took a political decision to give an “override” so there could be “surgical removal of mangroves” to create about two or three beaches for the billion-dollar Antigua & Barbuda Special Economic Zone (ABSEZ).

Additionally, the company addressed a further video circulated on social media on Wednesday, showing government officials waiting outside an entrance to the site.

Contrary to what was said in the video, Yida said it was not preventing the officials from entering but had in fact invited them there to examine its current operations following the allegations.

“The site visit was conducted taking proper Covid-19 protocols into account,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, government agencies with responsibility for the Yida project have been reluctant to speak to journalists about the alleged incidents.  Observer media was however informed that a report of the visit is expected to be compiled in the coming days.

The other issue arose from an oversight on the part of the government to add Yida to the list of essential construction companies allowed to work during the 24-hour lockdown.

The Cabinet has since included the group – along with several other construction companies – to those considered important to development.

The project in the north of Antigua has been riddled with criticism from the very beginning, from alleged environmental breaches and lawsuits to questionable motives on the part of the government.

Much of the flack has come from environmentalists, activists and the political opposition, all of whom believe that the government is putting its fiscal agenda ahead of environmental protection. 

In October 2019, a commercial sand-extraction operation was forced to a halt because of an opposition whistle-blower and intervention from the relevant development and environment authorities.

Yida was found to be mining sand within the protected North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA) which encompasses two of its sites – Crabbs Peninsula and Guiana Island – for the development of some beaches along their property at Crabbs.

The government, however, remains resolute that the 2,000-acre project will reap massive economic benefits when the new multi-functional economic free trade area becomes operational. The expansive scheme is set to feature factories, schools, homes and holiday resorts.

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