Conservation group: Tobagonians 'hoodwinked' over Sandals plans
Environment Tobago, is demanding that government and the Sandals administration provide clear plans regarding the proposed Sandals Tobago project, saying that otherwise, Tobagonians will continue to be 'hoodwinked'.
In a statement issued Friday, the group's Vice President, Patricia Turpin, listed a number of concerns which have not been fully addressed after development plans were announced.
Their statement is as follows:
"Environment Tobago has been continuously asked to define our position on the proposed Tobago Sandals project. Despite being equated as anti-development, we have been very consistent with our opinions over the years on the environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposed development within an ESA-Environmentally sensitive area."
"The most troubling aspect of this proposal has been the total lack of transparency, consultation; as well as the behind the scenes developments that have been the hallmarks of these negotiations. To be very clear with our opinions, we will discuss this issue in three sections- environmental, social and economic impacts and risks."
"1. Environmental- The area earmarked for development is Golden Grove and Buccoo Estates for 750 hotel rooms in 2 separate areas. Excluding NO MANS LAND. To date, no current plan has been publicly disclosed. What was previously shown was a copy of the original development plan. No attempt has been made to date to apply to the TCPD or EMA for a CEC. No EIA has been done. The original CEC has expired since 2006."
"Environmentally, Golden Grove Estate surrounds partially the Bon Accord Lagoon & Buccoo Reef Complex- an ESA, a Ramsar site and Marine Park. It includes the lagoon and mangrove forests. Buccoo Estate includes the mangrove forests and marshlands that are also part of this complex ecosystem."
"I don’t think we need to emphasise more the importance of these areas to coastal protection, fish nurseries, tourism related activities, flood control, filtration, and avian migration. Great care has to be taken in the conditions laid down for use of this area for development," she said.
She also listed a number of social impacts, mainly the risk of impairing the livelihoods of Tobagonians who use this area.
"Fishermen, hunters, food gatherers (crab etc), fisheries nurseries, science classrooms, public beach use ( no private beaches in Tobago),water sports, and traditional use of the wetlands by locals are all at risk. Added to this is the sense of exclusion from heritage areas," the group said.
Turpin also questioned the alleged economic benefits the planned development will bring.
"3. Economic-What exactly will these benefits be and when will they happen? We are told the Sandals operators will bring in an influx of high end visitors, much needed destination marketing, airline transportation from different regions, jobs and training for hotel staff, construction jobs during the building phases, a boost for agriculture development and an influx of foreign exchange. Forgive us for being skeptical about these claims."
"A) No evidence/data has been shown as to how many jobs will actually be created for Tobago based tourism practitioners/staff in whatever sphere including cooks and gardeners. B) How many temporary construction workers C) What are the tax concessions being offered? Who is building the Hotels- the GORTT or Sandals? D) Where do visitors to the resort pay their bills. Overseas or locally? Since Sandals is normally ALL inclusive (will ancillary services-scuba, tour operators, car rentals be locally included) Unless bills are paid locally, how will Foreign exchange be increased."
She also mentioned that as there has been no move to develop agriculture in Tobago, "it is obvious that the tax-free importation of food /produce will take place".
"In conclusion, Environment Tobago can only state that unless transparent disclosure of development plans, public consultation and fulfillment of the environmental requirements of an EIA takes place, the population of Tobago will continue to believe they have been hood winked and deceived in an underhanded and destructive use of their natural resources and heritage, for secretive and nefarious gains."
"Please do it properly, as required by law. Do not employ the process of “ministerial override” to impose this development on the people of Tobago," said the group.