In a decision criticized by locals and environmentalists, the government of the Bahamas has given tentative approval to a plan by Disney Cruise Line to build a cruise port on the southern tip of the thin, 110-mile-long island of Eleuthera.
The port would be part of a 746-acre development by the subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co. entertainment empire and would include a pier, shops, marina, restaurants and walkways through nearby forest and around salt ponds.
In a statement, the Bahamian Cabinet said the project would “create approximately 150 new jobs and an array of entrepreneurial opportunities for residents of Eleuthera and Bahamians in general.”
The project has split the approximate 11,000 residents on the island, with some Disney critics pushing for a rival plan that they say would generate more revenue and jobs for island residents.
The rival project, proposed by a nonprofit group called One Eleuthera Foundation, calls for preserving the land at the southern tip of Eleuthera as a park with tourist attractions, including a small condo-hotel project, canoe rentals, a dive center and horseback tours. The land features a lighthouse overlooking a white-sand beach.
The rival project had the support of Lighthouse Point Partners, a coalition of local and environmental groups including the Bahamas National Trust.
“We are obviously disappointed that our proposal was not given a fair chance to be heard by the government,” said Shaun Ingraham, chief executive of One Eleuthera Foundation. “The Lighthouse Point Partners were offering a new sustainable model for the development of this site, but instead the government went with what was familiar over what could have provided more jobs and better-paying jobs for the people of South Eleuthera.”
The government’s statement said the National Economic Council gave preliminary approval for the Disney project Friday, but final approval will have to come from Parliament after details are agreed upon and studies are completed.
The land is private property that Disney has already agreed to buy, pending government approval.
Prime Minister Hubert Alexander Minnis attended a public meeting Oct. 10 on the island to discuss the two proposed projects, but Disney critics say locals and government officials wearing Disney T-shirts took charge of the meeting. Video images of the meeting show audience members loudly booing critics of the Disney project.
In a statement, Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Cruise Line, said Disney looks “forward to working with government and the people of the Bahamas to create new economic opportunities while preserving the natural beauty of Lighthouse Point.”