PHOTO: Allen Chastanet, St. Lucia's Prime Minister. (photo by Brian Major)
Fierce debate has erupted in Saint Lucia regarding plans for a government-backed, $2.6 billion “fully integrated development” focused on equestrian and “world class” horse-racing activities.
Opponents emerged in public meetings held this month to discuss “Pearl of the Caribbean,” a 700-acre development planned for the Vieux Fort district in the country’s south.
Allen Chastanet, Saint Lucia’s prime minister, recently unveiled the proposed plans for development’s second phase.
Chastanet first announced the massive development in July after signing an agreement between Saint Lucia’s government and developer Desert Star Holdings (DSH). Project plans call for a marina, racetrack, resort and shopping mall complex, casino, entertainment and leisure facilities, villas, apartments and “eco-tourism” attractions.
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The pact follows three years of negotiations between DSH and government agencies, including Invest Saint Lucia (ISL), the Citizenship by Investment Unit and the Development Control Authority, said ISL officials in a statement.
DSH will build the development in 25 phases over 20 to 25 years according to the plan. The first phase, featuring a racetrack at Beausejour near Gros Islet, is nearing approval stage pending an Environmental Impact Assessment, ISL officials said. Phase one will also include a grandstand, polo field, equestrian lawn and associated horse barns.
Chastanet said the project will be subject to, “full EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] studies". Additionally he said he will appoint a taskforce, “specifically for this project with various departments to ensure that we do the necessary work.”
The public will have time to “digest” aspects of the development and provide feedback, he said, adding, “We are ready to implement this project as soon as all the work has been completed.”
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Nevertheless, political opponents and environmental experts including members of the Saint Lucia National Trust questioned the project’s environmental impact at this week’s public meetings, focusing largely on the construction of a causeway connecting Saint Lucia’s mainland with offshore islands.
“Creating a causeway in this area will end up burying large areas of the reef and seagrass habitats, resulting in loss of vital nursery, breeding and coastal fisheries grounds,” said Sarah N. George, a Saint Lucian biologist and official of the country’s Fisheries Department.
Added George, “Another serious effect of placing a causeway between an area of mainland and offshore islands is the disruption it causes to the natural process of littoral drift”, which she described as the natural process that forms beachfront.
Previous Saint Lucia projects have highlighted problems created by disturbing the natural phenomenon, George said: “Significant loss of beachfront occurred for many years at Pigeon Island, in front of Gros Islet and in the southern part of Rodney Bay.
“None of these areas have regained their former beach volumes,” she said, “despite efforts to put in place costly structures along the shoreline aimed at preventing further erosion and protecting vulnerable coastal structures against storm damage.”
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Chastanet has described the Vieux Fort region as ripe for tourism infrastructure development with a “world-class, deep-water harbor, international airport and over 10,000 acres of undeveloped flat land.”
He mentioned other tourism development initiatives that are planned for the region, including a new cruise ship terminal and the redevelopment of Hewannora International Airport.
He called opponents of the development “naysayers,” explaining the project would provide much-needed employment in the economically challenged nation.
“I am asking the people of Saint Lucia to come out and support this initiative. You may not like every detail of it, but what we are doing is putting a plan on the table of being able to move this country forward,” he said.
“I very much recognize the urgent need for us to develop job opportunities [and] sustainable livelihoods and that the outstanding natural beauty, coastal marine assets and available land in the south means tourism is going to be a major element in such development,” George countered.
“But as a country we must strike a healthy balance that can provide viable, sustainable social and economic progress for all Saint Lucians while safeguarding our environmental assets,” she said. “Unlike larger countries Saint Lucia’s tiny size means we have no room for environmental error.”
Saint Lucia is already in the midst of a significant hotel industry expansion, with 1,000 new hotel rooms scheduled to debut over the next several years and a re-structuring of the Saint Lucia Tourist Board, according to Dominic Fedee, Saint Lucia’s tourism minister.