Yacht, Charter, Bareboat, Holiday, Vacation, Accommodation,British Virgin Islands,BVI

February 6, 2007

Letter to the editor”

Dear Editor,
With the headline, “Residents voice Opposition to Smugglers”, people expected and, indeed, are entitled to know why there is protest concerning the development at Smugglers Cove. With the islands-wide headlong rush to high-end development and resorts, it was assumed some development would eventually come to Smuggler’s Cove.  Given the small size, shape, and narrowness of the site, expected were 10 or so individual upscale villas well-designed, evoking a small West Indian village, and showcasing the BVI’s unique and recognized architectural style in an eco-friendly manner.  Villas would be tucked away and landscaped on acre lots in keeping with the surrounding houses and set back far off the beach maintaining easy access and use by all. A 5 star  “boutique”  resort on the scale and size of Sugar Mill was touted, yet what has been proposed is much denser than other 5 star resorts in BVI: Biras Creek has 34 guest units on 140 acres, and Little Dix Bay has around 100 guest units on nearly 500 acres.  While several paragraphs were devoted to describing the 12-acre resort in pleasant marketing terms and an explanation the hearing is a required step towards approval, a mere one sentence was given to the comments and questions raised by 12 to 15 members of the community who spoke. Instead of a small upscale boutique eco-friendly resort they’d been led to expect, the community was shocked into the reality that Government is encouraging private local land to be sold to a speculative outside developer and signing away the rights to historic Government owned land. Here are just some of the stated issues and concerns raised by the public at the meeting, the only public hearing scheduled on this important topic.  These issues were not mentioned in what is supposed to be a fair unbiased report of the news- 

A development agreement was signed without input from the people. The resort is to take up more than half the (the full) length of the quiet well-used local family beach, leaving just a small part available to the “public”.  Yacht charter guests, guests of other hotels, and villa rental visitors, these being the bread and butter of traditional BVI businesses, the many many local families enjoying family outings, and church groups holding baptismal services and prayer meetings can not possibly fit on the remaining small public side.  Throw in the cruise ship passengers, who will be encouraged by the upgraded roads, and there won’t be room to sit down much less swim.

The agreement includes a 250 Ft. private dock which will, by default, be built on or near coral, fragile yet rejuvenating from previous damage and bleaching.  The dock will jut into the coral reef rich with juvenile fish.  It should be noted that coral reefs act as buffers from erosive wave action. Any responsible boat captain will warn, as several did at the hearing, the north swells in Smuggler’s Cove are unpredictable and particularly fierce during storms and will make the dock dangerous.   This agreement covers two blocks of land: parcel 2 is the 11 acre site owned/leased by the Denniston estate; parcel 268 is the 1.3 acre site owned by Belmont Estates Limited (not Belmont Owners Association).  As displayed on the drawings, the proposed dock is sited on parcel #2s “pebbly beach”.  However, the development agreement clearly states twice [para 2.10 and para 4.5] the dock is to be located on parcel 268 not parcel 2, as shown on the picture circulated by the applicant.  This places the dock at the very centre of the swimming beach !!!! ]
While the developer cherry-picked his comments, asserting the project will be environmentally safe, the fine print of the Environmental Impact Assessment survey(EIA) indicates otherwise and states clearly on page 19 there are  “serious environmental issues” with erosion, runoff, pollution and contaminants, the contention the author himself backed up in person.  Boats in this small cove will raise serious risk to swimmers, perhaps even eliminating Smugglers as the last public family swimming beach on Tortola.  Due to its low level, land around Smuggler’s is a wetland with a very shallow water table.  A sewage treatment facility located there, no matter how technologically advanced, will be subject to strong natural forces as will any individual septic systems.  10 foot waves and surges are not uncommon in Smuggler’s during violent storms and hurricanes.  More frequent are sudden outbursts with rain accumulations of 10-20 inches over a period of hours or days.  Even the best technology will be no match against the power of Mother Nature (water weighs 10  pounds per lbs per imperial gallon at zero force level), pummeling the land from the sea and/or hillside.  In the best circumstances and with the best intensions, ongoing day-to-day maintenance of a high-tech facility will be problematic and dependent on special parts prone to failure and skilled proactive human intervention.  It is not a matter of “if” the sewage treatment facility and/or septic systems will fail.  It is a matter of “when”.  Could be the first year, maybe the 5th or 10th but it will fail.

As noted in the EIA, at 65 dB (A), each generator, even “installed in an acoustic enclosure” will create as much noise as a city bus or large truck gunning its engine to climb a hill.  At this level with an acoustic enclosure, the noise level will significantly exceed the recognized standards for residential areas which are “below 55 dB (A) during the day and 45 dB (A) during the night”.  Given the steep bowl shape of the surrounding hillside, any and all noise will be amplified and reverberate throughout the estate.

Water, electricity, trash, sewage, construction “accidents”, noise are all issues in this small crescent shaped rural area

The EIA also notes “In addition to noise, workers and guests should be protected against air emissions .nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter emissions are usually the areas of concern”. Recent studies and papers authored by “the leading international network of climate scientists has concluded for the first time that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activity is the main driver” (New York Times Feb 2, 2007).  We should be promoting sustainable energy at resorts and developments.

Traffic through Long Bay and around Steele Point through the ferry dock would jump from around 20-50 cars to a minimum of 266 cars daily on country roads- an increase ranging  from 532 % to 1,330 % at a minimum!!!  It was noted the traffic study was done during August and September of 2006 the slowest off peak time of the year and did not include traffic generated by groups such as resorts visitors who are there to use the spa or restaurant but not staying onsite among others.  Consider what West End, the ferry dock area, Apple Bay, and Long Bay will be like during peak season.  Access roads are to be widened over land owned and/or improved by Belongers and residents at their own expense, wiping out their improvements and creating dangerous traffic situations.   And there still won’t be enough road way or parking to handle the increase in traffic volumes safely. The consultant stated he anticipates “conflict between vehicles and pedestrians” as a crucial issue.
The dock will allow entry from other islands without clearing normal Immigration and Customs and will invite boat moorings, and possibly illegal landings.  Boats which will pump sewage into the now clear and clean water of Smuggler’s. 

The hotel is to have its own shuttle to the ferry and airport, discouraging taxis. Taxis proudly owned and operated by hard working BVI residents forcing them to find other lines of work or to work for others, possibly the developer himself or an outside concessionaire of his choosing.  Someone whose permit and trade license has been fast-tracked per agreement by Government.   

The off–island contractor was given permission to build “temporary” affordable accommodations and “related facilities” for its migrant workers on site or near on Parcel 267, (the salt pond and palm grove area). As discussed in detail below, this site is part of the 2005 plan by Town and Country Planning proposal for a park or conservation area, running from Smugglers Cove to Black Rock on Long Bay. This parcel is home to an important Pre-Columbian Indian archeological dig, part of Tortola’s heritage. The 18th century ruins on the site of the first phase of development were built by the blood, sweat, tears, and lives of BVI’s ancestors. Who knows what other historical evidence and heritage is there under the surface to be forever buried under the villas and resort.

Rather than representing the West Indies and more specifically the elegant architecture the BVI is proudly recognized for, these villas and the entire resort will copy, exactly, the Balinese architecture chosen by the developer to further his global brand image.  And it will set a precedent for the future as it will be the first time in BVI history its doors will be open to a chain, welcoming it with concessions such as allowing them to speculate and build on historic sites.  The “brand-use” of proposed thatched roofing is inappropriate in Smugglers wet climate and will become host to rats, bats and rot, as attested to by another local estate.        

More alarming, the developer was given “first refusal” for “future expansion of the Resort or the building of a new Resort and related facilities.” from Smugglers to Long Bay.  This will mean the developer would control the northwest corner of the island up to the (densely populated) Long Bay Resort including the end of that beach as well. All the villas and suites are for sale, meaning the entire resort is being built as a speculative real estate venture which will be handed over to managers.  Work permits for the outside laborers are to be fast-tracked (within 14 days), along with non-belonger landowner’s and trade licenses raising the likelihood individuals from other countries with dubious personal histories and/or criminal records will pray upon the good people of the BVI. Meanwhile, some responsible residents have been waiting for 8 years for theirs. These development agreements look like a grab for land and licenses benefiting outside investors and speculators, leaving residents in the dust.
Access to the development proposal and development agreement, as well as the Environmental Impact survey [and impact] statement was limited and few had the opportunity to see and read it prior to the meeting.  Much of information contained in it is vague and/or based on assumptions which may or may not be complete or valid, raising more concerns.  Had the documentation been more widely available, the meeting been allowed to continue with more public comments read into the record and/or additional meetings scheduled, there is a sense even more questions and concerns would be raised. 

And finally, according to management plans developed by Town and Country in 2001, the area including Smuggler’s Cove, Belmont Bay, the salt pond, Black Rock, and the palm grove to the end of Long Bay were slated to be become a park system complete with bathroom facilities, retreat house, nature trails, beach activities and used for historic preservation, scientific, educational, and recreational purposes.  As late as 2005, this management plan was reviewed, updated, and revalidated, identifying a combined park system of recreational, cultural, educational, scientific as the best use of the site for current and future generations.  What happened in one short year? Why the sudden change of intention and best use?  Why the rush?  

All of our environmental assets that were pending protection are now at red-alert since our present powers don’t seem to think the proposed park system merits any consideration in their development agreements. Once Smuggler’s Cove, one of Natures Little Secrets, is gone, it will be gone forever. While it is recognized there is room for some development, the island has been stricken by a fatal disease eating all coastlines and the last few “hidden secrets”. Only a local doctor with a holistic vision can save it from becoming St. Thomas or Cancun.  That is what members of the public who were given the opportunity to speak said during the meeting and why there is much community comment, discussion and concern about the development. 


BVI Islands Heritage Conservation Group       Noni Mandisa Georges       Deanna Trott-Rubaine

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