Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Farley Augustine announced on Tuesday that the still unidentified developers of a planned 500-room luxury resort at Kilgwyn Bay in southwest Tobago, would proceed under the oversight of a seven-person team tasked with monitoring its construction and ensuring its alignment with environmental standards.
That's important, because when Augustine first announced the project in November 2022, he noted that it would proceed on virgin land with virgin beach opportunities.
Those are exciting words for tourists and developers, but they also sound a note of caution for environmentalists, who should be concerned about the impact of development on this secluded Tobago beach.
Kilgwyn Bay is surrounded by development, and is just half a kilometre from the airport, but it’s a part of Tobago that has remained largely pristine.
Augustine also lamented the land acquisition for the billion-dollar expansion of the ANR Robinson International Airport at Crown Point, a process that his incoming administration turned into a flashpoint, as residents argued about the terms of leaving their homes so that the project could proceed.
The incoming THA administration allowed a project with clear-cut guidelines to degenerate into a political squabble, with the interests of the families and project deadlines at stake.
The new administration's cavalier approach to the guidelines of the Environmental Management Authority in building the "controversial stage in the sea," set an unfortunate precedent, and this refreshed commitment to environmental oversight is a welcome reversal of approach. The Kilgwyn Bay development, as a private project proceeding on previously undeveloped lands with a beachfront that includes a reef, should be subject to oversight not only of its environmental impact but also of its building process and strict adherence to TT construction standards.
Augustine should recall, for reference, the storm of resistance that accompanied a proposed Sandals resort in Tobago that was announced in 2017 and abruptly cancelled in January 2019 after concerns about the impact of the facility on the largely pristine No Man's Land mangrove, which is close to Buccoo Reef and the Nylon Pool. The government trusted Sandals to manage the project, dismissing the sustained concerns about environmental impact. Environmentalists did not trust Sandals' record of development or the proposed development plan.
In planning for official oversight of the Kilgwyn Bay project, the Chief Secretary should reflect on the track record of his administration with the EMA and make specific efforts to include a representative of the authority among the five monitors it will appoint to the oversight team.
More usefully, he must commit to acting on the findings of his observers in balancing the best interests of Tobago's economy and its fragile ecosystem.