Sun | Mar 26, 2017

Mega US$2.6b resort project roils St Lucians

Published:Friday | March 17, 2017 | 3:00 AM
Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet.

The St Lucia opposition is marshalling support for a national demonstration against a US$2.6-billion resort project to be executed by Hong Kong investors.

The resort development, called 'Pearl of the Caribbean' and spanning 700 acres, is being fought on environmental grounds, as well as its potential impact on residents of the community in which it will sit, the southern town of Vieux-Fort.

The project includes a plan to reclaim up to 200 acres of land from the sea.

"The St Lucia Labour Party reiterates its opposition to the DSH project in its current form and is even more outraged at the proposed phase two of the project which will include the Maria Islands. The party believes that if allowed to proceed, the projects will bring untold hardships on the people of the south in particular, as well as our fragile ecosystem," the SLP said in a statement.

SLP is trying to gin up interest in a series of town hall meetings it aims to convene nationwide. Those meetings will be followed by "mass street demonstrations".

Last week, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet urged St Lucians to be "bold and courageous" as he pitched the project that will include a marina, a racecourse, a resort and shopping mall complex, casino, free trade zone, entertainment and leisure facilities, villas and apartments.

Invest St Lucia also touted the jobs it would create in a statement.

"Overall, the Pearl of the Caribbean development is designed to be a well-balanced project, with open space making up over 50 per cent of the overall development," said the state investment agency. "It is designed to be a sustainable and self-contained development and is expected to generate between 500 to 800 jobs in construction during its initial phase of implementation."

The resort will be developed by Hong Kong-based Desert Star Holdings (DSH).

No peace

In January, former Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, who up to last year was leader of the SLP, demanded that the deal be renegotiated and the project redesigned.

"If this agreement is not renegotiated, if this agreement is not redesigned, if all the offensive provisions in that agreement are not removed then I say to you tonight, there will never ever be peace in this community and in this country," Anthony said.

Prime Minister Chastanet told a conference, which included the project developer Teo Ah Khing of DSH, that he would be appointing a task force specifically for this project to work with various departments to coordinate implementation of the project.

"St Lucia, it is time for us take control of our own destiny. Let us stop living in mediocrity. Let us develop our assets for all the citizens in the south and for St Lucia. The time for change is now," Chastanet urged.

DHS plans to 'create' another 150 to 200 acres of land by reclamation from the sea, saying that "of the new lands, certain portions will be returned" to St Lucians.

"This is not just about the public parks or ocean parks that the visitors are going to enjoy; this is to allow us to put ourselves on the world map for the international research of wild life," Teo said.

But in its statement, the SLP said that the government has shown insensitivity to the concerns of residents by pushing ahead with a major project without any meaningful public consultations.

"From leasing prime lands at EC$1 per acre to the destruction of our ecosystem at Maria Islands, the prime minister continues to show scant regard for the welfare of St Lucians," the opposition party said.

It noted, too, that even the concerns of the St Lucia National Trust had been ignored.

The SLNT has called on the government to rethink its plans for 'Pearl', and that it has had no success obtaining the project documents.

"This proposed plan threatens Maria Islands, a nature reserve, which is the home of the world's rarest snake, the St Lucia Racer, as well as the St Lucia whiptail and many other unique flora and fauna," the SLNT said.

"The disturbing news is that in addition to destroying the ecological, environmental, historical, archaeological and social assets enshrined in Pointe Sable, the DSH plan includes a proposal to connect Maria Major and Maria Minor and building a causeway to the main land," the conservation agency added.

- CMC