From: Associated Press
Published October 18, 2006 12:00 AM

Mega-Resort Proposal Draws Criticism in British Virgin Islands

EAST END, British Virgin Islands -- Residents have criticized a luxury resort and marina project planned for a sparsely developed spit of land in the British Virgin Islands, saying it would distort the local housing market and destroy wildlife habitats.

Only a few of the 150 Tortola residents who attended a public forum Monday night spoke in favor of the Beef Island Golf & Country Club Resort, a 650-acre (260-hectare) resort that would take up most of the largely uninhabited Beef Island.

An airport and a few shops are the only development on the island, which is separated from the main island of Tortola by a short bridge.

Resort architect Tim Peck, who represented developer Quorum Island Ltd. at the meeting, said they changed the plans significantly based on an environmental impact study and concerns raised at similar public meetings in July. But environmentalists dismissed Peck's proposal for the resort to feature 200 acres (80 hectares) of untouched conservation land.

"You can't just talk about saving one little area of wetland and trashing another," said Trish Baily, of the Association of Reef Keepers advocacy group. "It's a whole wetland environment."

A record of the public input from Monday's meeting was to be submitted to the British territory's Executive Council, which has final say on whether to allow the project. Government leaders last year signed a deal approving the project in principle.

Other critics were concerned the resort, which will reportedly cost more than US$80 million (euro64 million) to develop, would create only low-wage jobs while inflating land prices, forcing islanders out of their own housing markets.

Store clerk Naaman Rabsatt said he supported the project because it will boost tourism in the island chain of 22,000 people.

"This is the price we have to pay to grow with the rest of the world. If we say no to these plans, another country will say yes," Rabsatt said.

The developer hopes to begin construction this year. The resort would take 15 years to complete, with the primary hotel and an 18-hole golf course ready to open by 2011.

Earlier this year, a documentary commissioned by the government's Conservation and Fisheries Department said the resort would damage important marine breeding grounds off the island famed for pristine reefs and mangrove forests.

Source: Associated Press

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