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Govt stops SDO debate in its tracks

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The Progressive Labour Party last night dramatically halted the Rosewood Tucker's Point SDO debate with Senate President Carol Ann Bassett seemingly set to cast the deciding vote.

Independent Senators Walwyn Hughes and Joan Dillas-Wright had both indicated they opposed the Special Development Order allowing the luxury resort's controversial expansion.

Around four and a half hours into the debate, with five Senators apparently in favour and five against not including Senator Bassett Junior Environment Minister David Burt interrupted proceedings to “rise and report progress”.

Sen Burt's call means the PLP may bring the SDO back at another sitting for the remainder of the debate and a vote, with amendments if necessary.

“We listened,” Sen Burt told

The Royal Gazette after the proceedings came to their early conclusion. “This way we give an option for all the parties to reflect and to review their position.”

He made the decision after consultation with Premier Paula Cox, Environment Minister Walter Roban, Tourism Minister Patrice Minors and PLP Senate Leader David Burch.

Anti-SDO campaigners, who had protested on Cabinet grounds throughout the day, claimed the PLP feared it was going to lose and needs to make amendments to the order.

Stuart Hayward, of Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, told this newspaper: “I would imagine they recognised they weren't going to have the votes to win and so they did the proverbial 'stoop to conquer': rise and report progress.

“They will look for some adjustments that will satisfy the concerns that were raised and continue the debate.”

Around 100 protesters were on Cabinet grounds around noon, waving placards, and they maintained a presence throughout the day, taking seats at the back of the chamber after the SDO debate began at 5pm.

Car horns blared outside the Upper House as passing motorists registered their disapproval of the order; Ms Cox and a number of Ministers joined the public gallery as the evening wore on.

With all five PLP Senators virtually certain to vote in favour of the SDO, campaigners were hoping to convince all three Independent Senators to go against the order which would pave the way for 78 private homes and 70 hotel rooms.

Early in the debate, Sen Hughes said he couldn't support the SDO and asked for both sides to find “some sort of middle ground”. He pointed to “substantial damage to highly sensitive areas” and an irreversible environmental impact.

Shortly afterwards, Sen Dillas-Wright said the Island is already over-developed as she revealed she couldn't vote in favour either.

Sen Bassett, who was due to speak last, would not reveal her thoughts on the SDO when asked by this newspaper last night.

Many in the PLP are said to have been very critical of the SDO behind the scenes, although it ultimately won the support of caucus before getting approved by the House of Assembly last month.

Sen Burch said towards the end of the debate: “I will vote for the SDO today, but do so only because the national interest supercedes my personal misgivings.”

Sen Burt had spelled out Government's reasons for granting the SDO as he opened the debate.

He said Tucker's Point could not be allowed to fail for the sake of the Island's tourism industry, which is in serious need of revitalisation.

Saying Tucker's Point had raised the bar as the first luxury hotel in Bermuda in 35 years, he said the Rosewood development provided “proof that Bermuda is still being sought after”.

“Government is listening to the concerns of tourism,” said Sen Burt, adding that competition has now become more sophisticated and focused.

And he said while there would be an impact on the environment, he added: “Conditions will be met. I'm satisfied that any impact can and will be mitigated.”

The three UBP Senators echoed concerns from environmentalists, as well as the suggestion the SDO amounts to a bailout of a company fallen on hard times.

Responding to the rise and report move, UBP Senator Michael Dunkley told this newspaper: “Throughout my comments I made it very clear that no matter what the debate's outcome would be, whether it was a yes or no vote, we need to try and find a position we can all cope with.

“If we can't find that position we are all going to lose, not just Tucker's Point but all of us.

“We are satisfied with the outcome at this point, but there is still much work to be done. We are hoping we can resolve this in the interest of all concerned and I know we can find a position we can all live with and work together as we move forward.”

Sen Dunkley said the UBP and Independent Senators had listened to what people said in the course of the community discussion.

“All that came from a community that spoke out, sending emails and letters and I think the Senators listened and Government thought it was worth stepping back from the decision,” he said.

He applauded the move by Sen Burt and said: “In the end we are all going to win. Forget political parties, the people of Bermuda will win because we will be able to make better decisions.”

Supporters and protestors intermingle on the Cabinet grounds yesterday as the Senate began debate on the Tucker's Point SDO.
Senate President Carol Anne Bassett, an Independent, peers from a second storey window of the Cabinet building as SDO protestors gather on the grounds below.
Meeting: Opposition Senator Michael Dunkley shakes hands with Tucker's Point owner Ed Trippe as he arrives. (Photo by Mark Tatem)
SDO protest: Francis Eddy speaks as protestors listen closely. Photo by Mark Tatem

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Published March 19, 2011 at 6:00 am (Updated March 19, 2011 at 6:58 am)

Govt stops SDO debate in its tracks

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