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February Year in review: Govt, developers clash over Morgan's Point land swap

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Caretaker and horticulturalist Jay Robinson stands in one of the numerous Quarry Gardens at Southlands

A bitter private row between the owners of Southlands and Premier Ewart Brown over the delayed Morgan’s Point land swap deal became public in dramatic fashion in February.Global insurance chief Brian Duperreault decided to voice his frustrations at the lack of progress on the exchange, claiming in an exclusive interview with The Royal Gazette that Dr Brown had repeatedly stalled the agreement and treated Southlands Ltd unfairly.He threatened to sue if the swap fell through, claiming the local company had been “damaged” by endless delays and had spent a “lot of money” already.The chief executive officer of insurance giant Marsh & McLennan Companies said: “It is clear that the Premier does not want to have the swap take place. He doesn’t want Southlands taken by the Government and made into a park.“He doesn’t want us to take possession of Morgan’s Point. I don’t think there is a desire, at least on the Premier’s part, to do this at all.”The dispute had been developing behind the scenes for months, with Mr Duperreault and partners Craig Christensen and Nelson Hunt claiming they were stymied every time they presented hotel plans to Government for the former US Naval Annex at Morgan’s Point.The three businessmen bought the pristine 37-acre Southlands estate in Warwick in 2005 and incorporated Southlands Ltd. Their plan was to develop a resort on one of the Island’s largest remaining unspoilt plots but it met with uproar from the community, as did the granting of a special development order for the project in August 2007.The public’s reaction persuaded the Southlands directors to agree to swap the estate for 80 acres of public land at Morgan’s Point in Southampton and the two sides signed the first stage of a deal in April, 2008, when Tourism Minister Dr Brown said Southlands would “most likely” become a national park.The multi-million dollar tourism resort planned for Southlands would instead be built on the derelict former military base at Morgan’s Point.According to Mr Duperreault, the deal wasn’t been legally completed in almost two years because of a constant stream of demands and failures to move forward by the Premier.His claims upset environmentalists who had fought to save Southlands from development. Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce (BEST) described itself as “highly distressed” and said in a statement that if the allegations were true then Dr Brown had reneged on an agreement with the public and a commitment to support Bermudian entrepreneurs.The Greenrock charity said it believed “political sabotage” was to blame for the fact that the exchange had yet to happen.The Premier’s press secretary initially said Dr Brown had no comment on Mr Duperreault’s accusations. But a day after the first front-page story appeared, a Government spokesman who would not be named unleashed a barrage of criticism.The spokesman said the Southlands directors were “running around pretending to be hotel developers” when none of them had ever developed a tourist resort before.He said Southlands Ltd had been given its “shot” to come up with a viable plan for a five-star resort for Morgan’s Point and had failed due to lack of experience.“In October/November 2008, when they came with their plan, it was crystal clear...they didn’t have a clue how to do it,” he said.The remarks provoked an angry outburst from Mr Hunt, owner of Hunt’s Food and Supplies, on a live talk radio show on February 24 .“They have gone and tried to destroy our reputations,” he said. “I’m not letting someone else come here and take this deal from us.”The following month, Southlands Ltd agreed to a request from Government not to talk to the press about Morgan’s Point and the land swap was finally signed on September 13.

Tourism Minister Premier Dr. Ewart Brown and Minister of Works and Engineering Derrick Burgess along with members of the