Legal Action Threat To Bec, Oil Firms

Legal Action Threat To Bec, Oil Firms

The Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) and the major oil companies were yesterday warned they may face legal action related to ongoing oil spills and environmental issues at Clifton Bay area, a well-known QC accusing them of maintaining “a fortress mentality”.

Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner who acts for the Save the Bays coalition, said the state-owned monopoly energy provider, plus FOCOL (Shell), Esso and Rubis (Texaco), had failed to reply to the group’s request for ‘co-operation’ in tackling the issues at Clifton Bay.

Noting that he had first written to the companies two months ago, Mr Smith told Tribune Business their failure to reply was “unhelpful and counterproductive”, the only response to Save the Bays having come from BISX-listed Commonwealth Brewery.

Praising the Brewery for its engagement, Mr Smith warned that the continuing silence from BEC and the oil companies, coupled with the recent “dramatic oil spill” at Clifton Bay, might force the environmental coalition to take legal action against them for alleged “nuisance or negligence”.

Emphasising that he was not blaming any of these companies for the latest oil spill, Mr Smith told Tribune Business that Save the Bays was investigating to determine the source and who was responsible.

And he warned that the persistent oil spillages, which were being carried in waters beyond Clifton Bay, were threatening the annual $76 million tourist diving market off southwestern New Providence, the attraction of Lyford Cay and the wider eco-tourism market.

“There has been a dramatic oil spill at Clifton Bay,” Mr Smith said, referring to the spillage covered in yesterday’s Tribune. “Exactly who is responsible is something Save the Bays is investigating.”

Recalling the April 4, 2013, letters that sought co-operation in developing a plan that will enable them to “harmoniously co-exist” with other users of the Clifton Bay area, Mr Smith told this newspaper: “We have written to all the industrial companies in the Clifton Bay area, and none of the oil-related companies have responded.”

The only response to-date has been received from Commonwealth Brewery, whose managing director, Nico Pinotsis, said on May 7: “It goes without saying that we comply with existing legislation and make sure that we obtain all necessary licences and required permits, and have them renewed when due.”

Mr Smith contrasted the Brewery’s engagement with all other Clifton-based industrial operators. And he warned that legal action may also be taken, as it had Nygard Cay, to force the Government to apply the environmental legislation and regulations at its disposal.

“I think it is unhelpful and counterproductive for the oil companies and other industry [BEC} to ignore us,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.

“We have reached out in the spirit of co-operation, but as with the Judicial Review complaint we have launched against the Government in relation to Nygard Cay, if the oil companies and BEC continue to maintain a fortress mentality, then we will have to bring legal action against them for nuisance or negligence.”

And Mr Smith added: “We also urge the relevant government authorities under the Health and Safety Act, and other legislation, to bring action against the various companies.

‘The pollution must stop, and controls must be put in place. We cannot have the most affluent second home project in the Bahamas, the Clifton Heritage Park, and the eco-tourism industry in the Bahamas subject to obvious and drastic oil pollution.

“It’s bad for the image of the Bahamas. We are promoting second home tourism, eco-tourism, dive exploration, a beautiful marine environment, and it is unfortunate that divers, boaters and others that use the recreational facilities be exposed to sticky, messy oil pollution.”

Mr Smith urged BEC and the oil companies to work with Save the Bays in building “harmonious interaction” between the tourism, industrial and cultural, recreational and marine sectors that use Clifton Bay.

While not blaming any of Clifton’s industrial players for the latest spill, Mr Smith said Save the Bays was “shocked” by it.

“We are told by others that although the recent oil spill is dramatically in excess of what has been going on recently, oil spillage has become an almost daily occurrence at Clifton Bay,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business.

“I have personally, in recent months, flown over inspecting the area. I have seen oil streaks that extend for miles around the Clifton Bay area.”

Noting that oil spillages were spreading beyond Clifton Bay, the QC reiterated: “It is going to affect, and is affecting, the dive and tourism economy, it is affecting recreational facilities, and it is affecting marine life.

“If it continues, it will kill-off marine life, and known coral and marine growth.”

Mr Smith urged the Government to pass both a Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Protection Act, arguing that the latter would “impose recognised standards by which BEC and the others oil companies will be held to.

“BEC, being a government corporation, will be obliged to produce copies of their environmental reports, their safety and pollution reports, and information related to their clean up of oil, toxic and hazardous waste.”

The importance of the Clifton Bay area cannot be overstated. A report produced for the Bahamas National Trust showed diving activities off southwestern New Providence have generated a $376 million economic impact over the past five years, attracting 70,000 visitors annually.

Focusing on the work and economic benefits created by Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, which has been using the area for film-making over the past 30 years, the BNT study said: “The worldwide publicity generated by these productions is nearly immeasurable, as the world has associated the waters off Nassau with healthy and abundant coral reefs and marine life.

“The economic impact of the film and TV production businesses alone on New Providence is estimated at over $5 million a year in direct expenditures in hotel room nights, food and beverage, transportation and other services rendered by local Bahamians for these production companies.”

Noting that Stuart Cove directly employed 125 Bahamian and international staff, the BNT report added: “These employees spend their payroll on local apartments, houses, at the grocery store, pubs, restaurants, etc, creating a yearly estimated economic impact of another $5.9 million from staff and the company’s expenditures locally.

“Furthermore, when the tourist expenditures are calculated, given almost 70,000 tourists either dive or snorkel the reefs off south-west New Providence, the direct expenditures of these tourists in the local hotels and restaurants are calculated at $64.3 million dollars a year (hotel, food and beverage, plus other vacation expenditures).”

Using figures generated by an economic impact study conducted by Cline Group, the BNT paper said the direct economic impact from Stuart Cove’s activities off south-west New Providence was $75.176 million per annum.


Tribune Business Editor

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Keod Smith - Keod Smith

Keod Smith is a Barrister in The Bahamas practicing at Commercial Law Advocates, Trinity Place Nassau.

He served as a Member of Parliament for 2002 – 2007 and as Ambassador for the Environment and Chairman of the BEST Commission from 2002 to mid 2006.

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