BIMINI, Bahamas -- The Bahamas government has issued a construction permit to Resorts World Bimini for a cruiseport capable of disembarking 1,500 ferry passengers daily at its gambling casino on the tiny island 50 miles east of Miami.
Resorts World —operated by Genting Group, the Malaysian gambling concern that purchased the Miami Herald’s downtown headquarters in 2011 — expects to bring as many as 570,000 tourists per year to this 8.8-square-mile island with a population of about 1,400.
While some islanders look forward to a boost in business, others see the $10 million project as an environmental Armageddon that will squash the last vestige of Bimini’s laid-back, Out Island-charm.
Construction is expected to begin shortly on a 1,000-foot-long pier on the western shore of North Bimini, and a connecting 4 1/2-acre island with berthing for the 660-foot-long ferry, plus three megayachts in the 200- to 300-foot range. Boat passengers would be able to clear customs on the manmade island, then board motorized trams for the short ride to the casino. Currently, the ferry stops just south of Bimini and sends passengers ashore on smaller tenders.
An environmental impact assessment prepared by Resorts World consultant Kirk Lofgren of Miami says workers will have to dredge 220,000 cubic yards of sea bottom to a depth of 31 feet; the dredged material will be used to construct the island. Construction is slated for completion sometime in December.
Lofgren says the site was chosen carefully to have the least environmental impact possible. The bottom is mostly sand but is dotted with hard and soft corals — “low relief habitat,” according to Lofgren, which would be damaged or destroyed during dredging. To mitigate the impact, an artificial reef would be built nearby using the transplanted corals and limestone boulders.
“If we’re going to build a pier, this is the best place to do it,” Lofgren said.
But Neal Watson, who runs a scuba center at Bimini Sands Resort with his son, fears popular coral reef dive sites just north of the pier, such as Three Sisters and Atlantis Reef, will be devastated.
“There’s no way to put a 1,000-foot pier and dredge a channel deep enough without causing an enormous amount of damage to the reefs and marine environment,” Watson said. “That boat is going to come in there day after day. Every time it comes in and departs, it’s going to be stirring silt in the channel they dredged.”
Lofgren responded that the company will monitor the water constantly for turbidity, and if it gets too murky, then work will stop.
Samuel “Doc” Gruber, a retired University of Miami professor who has operated a shark research lab on South Bimini since 1990, has clashed for years with the developers of the Bimini Bay Resort where the casino opened last summer. Gruber has long railed against destruction of mangroves and sea grass during construction of 400 housing units, several restaurants and docks that began in 1997. The scientist and others urged the Bahamian government to establish a North Bimini marine protected area, which happened in 2009. But the government never followed through with a management plan or regulations for the reserve.
Gruber is livid about the cruiseport, which he said was approved with no public oversight.