Has Walcott stirred up another Soufriere hornet’s nest?

DSC_0103Saint Lucia’s awe-inspiring Pitons, granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2004, were once again in the media spotlight last week, after news of a new development within the Piton Management Area (PMA) caught the attention of another local treasure Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. Not only has Derek Walcott been a strong proponent of the arts but he has long been an advocate for the environment and the natural heritage of Saint Lucia.
In last Saturday’s STAR, Walcott was quoted as saying he was “ashamed” of his country for what he described as “the scarring and whoring of the land,” specifically the Pitons following news of a new hotel to be erected there.
“If you are telling me right, that there is going to be a hotel built at the base of the Pitons, visible as a hotel, then that is whoring and I am ashamed of my country,” Walcott said. The Nobel Laureate who was at the time speaking to reporters following a Government House ceremony last Thursday to launch Nobel Laureate Week, was commenting on the Freedom Bay project re-launched here last week. While Walcott’s comments failed to attract any reaction from the government directly, only one TV station received a comment from the PS in the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Sylvester Clauzel.
Actually HTS sought to downplay Walcott’s outcry to a core of reporters, including one of their own Sarah Peter, who had first broached the subject. Clauzel told HTS that the Heider Report had designated Priority Area Four, the location chosen for Freedom Bay, as an area where building is permitted within the PMA and Freedom Bay will in no way negatively impact the universal value or the integrity of the PMA. Clauzel based his statement on the 2007 report.
He went on to say that the developers were a very responsible company and “we have been fairly satisfied that they will comply with DCA.” In a report HTS implied that Walcott had been misled by a corps of “misguided” press.
But just what was HTS seemingly distancing itself from? How exactly was Walcott misled? The fact is that the Freedom Bay project is underway at the base of one of the Pitons. True, the project is being undertaken in a so-called “build zone” but so, too, was the Mignucci Project under the last administration. The ensuing brouhaha was covered extensively by both the STAR and HTS. PS Clauzel knows all too well that any construction within the PMA is cause for concern to environmentalists like himself, as well as UNESCO and other international bodies.
But let us review some facts here before going further: both the Mignucci and the Freedom Bay projects were advanced under the watch of the current prime minister Kenny Anthony. The Mignucci alien land holding license was approved by Dr. Anthony, with the expressed condition that they would build within a specified time. The moment construction started, local environmentalists were up in arms, providing the media with plans, drawings and pictures of the “scarring” that would take place, as well as the desecration of our prized Pitons. The STAR later discovered that although the Italian couple had approval in principle to build, they first had to seek DCA approval, which they did just before the Kenny Anthony lost the 2006 general elections. By 2007 construction had begun without official approval and the project pretty soon turned ugly, with names like Leslie Mondesir (contractor) Bishnu Tulsie (environmentalist), Richard Frederick (Planning Minister) Clem Bobb (DCA Chairman) and Kenny Anthony among others all caught in a web between the two Pitons.
Somewhere in Soufriere stood Harold Dalson. Already he had pronounced Taiwanese Ambassador Tom Chou unwelcome in Soufriere. Now he was treating the Mignuccis with similar disdain. Dalson also took to Timothy Poleon’s program to state: “Saint Lucians can no longer sit back and allow the country to be overrun by those who have selfish agendas.”
He then went on to call on Saint Lucians to join him and others in “Sulphur City” to protest. Flavia Cherry took the bait but on the day in question they were famously staved off by irate workers on the Mignucci home, more concerned about food on their table than threats to the environment.
The SLP also released a statement: “The UWP Government is directly responsible for this situation. Despite protests from civil society and the opposition the UWP Government granted permission for developments to take place within the Pitons Management Area.” All of that when it was Prime Minister Anthony’s time that the related Alien Land Holding License was granted, with particular stipulations.
During the STAR’s coverage of the above-mentioned incidents we were also able to obtain several reports of the heavy siltation taking place in the Soufriere bay, thanks to the ongoing constructions within the PMA. What this meant was that the coral reefs, the water quality, the sea beds and the fish were being negatively impacted, threatening the sustainability of such activities as snorkeling, diving and fishing in Soufriere. Here was something that Harold Dalson had taken note of, as well as beach access for residents, commenting on it when ground for another “enclave” was later broken. In the meantime, arrangements for the Freedom Bay project had already been signed again by the Kenny Anthony government.
Let me quote from the STAR at the time: “The Freedom Bay project was signed on to six years ago by the Kenny Anthony Government. The project is under the five-star Six Senses Hotel and the super exclusive Private Residential Estate. On Saturday, January 5, 2013 Six Senses recommitted to the project with a signing ceremony at the site which was attended by Tourism Minister Lorne Theophilus and now between Malgretoute Hotel Development Company (Freedom Bay Hotel) and Six Senses Resort Management Company.
Freedom Bay sits on 68-acres of a World Heritage site beneath the Piton with a 420,000 square foot development comprising 45 four-bedroomed “super villas,” eight three-bedroomed “beach villas,” 18 one-bedroomed “hotel villas,” 22 one-bed “cliff villa apartments,” eight one-bed “cliff villa terraces,” 32 “rainforest apartments” and 41 “Piton Apartments.” The development is endorsed by former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss, who is also an investor.
Like Derek Walcott and scores of Saint Lucians at home and abroad, the STAR was more concerned with the impact this property would have on the environment and who would monitor its construction. Sure, we are in a crisis, but how many times are we going to rewrite the same bad stories of offering prime real estate for hotel development in return for a few jobs? We’ve done this over and over, crisis or no crisis.
But opinions aside let us get through some more facts: after returning to office in 2011, the Kenny Anthony administration did away with the PMA office and advertised for a manager for Protected Areas, not to mention the return of Walter Francois to the Soufriere Development Foundation. No need to go into Francois’ reputation as a government minister. Suffice it to say, what he claims demands validation at all times.
A former administrator at the PMA told the STAR this week that while the Freedom Bay project certainly has its good side, some components leave unanswered questions. These, according to our source, include the issue of how the land was acquired, and the fact that persons who had leases on the Queen’s Chain were taken off those leases.
We were also told that the development does indeed encroach on some sensitive areas and that the Heider report quoted by the PS is just that, a report of guidelines and not law.
“So in essence there is no law governing build zones or no-build zones. These zones are just “arbitrary and not clearly demarcated.”
Another fact is that both the Anthony and King administrations had been advised to place a moratorium on further development within the PMA. The STAR also checked with the Saint Lucia National Trust, with which the DCA works in approval of Environmental Impact Assessment for such projects as the Mignuccis and Freedom Bay.
Meanwhile the developer has insistented that the project will be eco-friendly.
However, as the facts and counter-facts continue to unravel faster than original government ideas to place bread in Soufriere’s empty baskets, we have a few more questions of our own that maybe HTS head investigator, fact finder and talk-show guru can help us with. Like: why in this instance an EIA was not sent to SLNT and if one was actually done who approved it? We were also curious as to who or what exactly is the Magretoute Hotel Development Company, a name not found in the original deal brokered by Dr. Anthony.
And finally, when the project was launched in London, with Bill Clinton in attendance, whatever happened to the US$325,000 raised for charity under the watch of then Saint Lucian CEO of the Robert Whitton Development Company Wayne Girard?
Enquiring, not red-eyed, minds want to know, your honour.

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