The National Democratic Party government is under fire for allowing the Investment Club to start a major harbour development project in the central area of Virgin Gorda without doing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and without any form of consultation with area residents.
During a fiery meeting at the Catholic Community Centre on Virgin Gorda last evening (March 29), residents expressed outrage over the fact that even their political representative Dr Hubert O’Neal was in the dark about the project and its potential impact.
Dr O’Neal, who convened the meeting, said he has been making futile attempts to get answers from the territory’s Chief Planner Gregory Adams, as well as Chief Conservation and Fisheries Officer Kelvin Penn.
Neither Penn nor Adams attended the meeting last evening – a sign of disrespect, the residents contend.
Dr O’Neal tried to explain the absence of the duo, but residents wanted to know why even their respective deputies were nowhere in sight.
“I did ask him (Adams) to come; he had another engagement over on Anegada today. So he couldn’t come to this meeting tonight. The Chief Conservation and Fisheries Officer Mr Penn didn’t have anything new to add basically,” Dr O’Neal said.
He further stated that the Chief Conservation and Fisheries Officer could not give him an explanation as to why an EIA was not done.
“I asked him (Penn) specifically about the EIA study, and he said it wasn’t done, but he couldn’t give me any adequate explanation as to why. It think it is important that we get to the bottom as to why these – especially the EIA study – [was not done]… So, I will delve further to find out what’s going on in that respect,” added Dr O’Neal.
“I had been doing my own research as well. I’ve been reliably informed by the Director of the Town and Country Planning Department Mr Adams that permission was sought from last year actually for this development. Approval was granted.”
Dr O’Neal tried to explain the grounds on which the project was approved.
“It was granted based on the development ideas – the plan that they (the developers) had submitted. It was approved also bearing in mind the cargo ramp [at the government’s nearby port] that is slated to be expanded as well. It had to sort of fit it with that [private marina] development. So, it was approved based on that.”
“Also, the crane [being used by the private marina developers] is a very heavy instrument. It is going to require the whole reconfiguration of the soil itself. I understand they are supposed to concrete the whole area of where the machine runs. This is so that the soil will be capable of taking that sort of weight. As you know, that soil there is all sand. I understand they are going to dig some two feet down, and then add gravel to firm it (the soil) up. I am not an engineer, but that is what I am told needs to be done,” Dr O’Neal said.
A resident, David O’Neal, claimed that the project is being done in breach of local laws, considering that there is no EIA and no consultation with residents.
He told Dr O’Neal : “As the representative for the Ninth District [which includes Virgin Gorda], I expected that you would demand that both Mr Adams and Mr Kelvin Penn come here and explain to us why this project is not proceeding in keeping with the Physical Planning Act.”
Residents also raised concerns about a number of other issues, including possible destruction of the reef and sea creatures, as well as pollution of the water.
A resident identified as Stephanie said the main focus should not be about earning revenues for either Government or the private developers.
“We are not saying that the project is a bad project; we are not saying that it shouldn’t happen. But the way it was done is disrespectful. It was done in a way where we don’t matter. When you sit back and you look at what Virgin Gorda brings to this territory, we deserve better,” Stephanie told representatives of the Investment Club Romney Penn and Dr Hesketh Vanterpool, who were at the meeting.
Laura Fox, who noted that Virgin Gorda has been her home for the last 15 years, suggested that residents take strong action if no answer is forthcoming from the necessary government authorities.
She challenged Dr O’Neal to mobilize the people, if necessary.
“Dr O’Neal. I respect everything you do, and I am glad you are in agreement with us (the residents). But, to be honest, as our representative, I don’t want you agreeing with us. I want you to be our fire cracker over there on Tortola and fighting our cause, because you have a lot of fire crackers here,” Fox said while other residents in the audience cheered in approval.
She continued: “You (Dr O’Neal) need to make sure that you do know about those decisions [regarding the harbour development]. You need to be hunting people and, if people don’t come to meetings, you got to do it Virgin Gorda style. Go outside their houses and you hunker them until they show their face, because they need to show up here, and we need you to be our firecracker. We can bring it from Virgin Gorda; can you (Dr O’Neal] deliver it to Road Town… Please be our fire cracker, because that’s what you were elected to do.”
The resident, Fox, then turned to the developers and made it clear that, although she is not a rocket scientist, she has reasons to question their conduct so far in relation to the harbour development.
“When you are developing the main part of Virgin Gorda and you have no conversation with the people who are in Virgin Gorda, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. It also didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when you buy a lift that the land can’t support, and now you have to figure out how you are going to support it so it doesn’t sink,” Fox said.
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