Cabot Saint Lucia: Water, History & Sustainability

Editor’s note: This week, I’m focusing on the concerns that have been raised in Saint Lucia over Ben Cowan-Dewar’s golf resort, Cabot Saint Lucia. In this installment: water, archaeological and sustainability issues.

 

“Where open sea and land collide is where golf exists in its purest form,” is a Bill Coore quote I ran across in a profile of a golf course designed by Coore and his partner Dan Crenshaw, the team behind Cabot Cliffs — and now, Cabot Saint Lucia.

Personally, I’d argue the “purest form” of hitting a ball with a stick is hitting a ball with a stick, but I am not a golfer and don’t pretend to understand what happens when you hit a ball with a stick near open water. I do know, though, that where open sea and land collide, myriad potential environmental problems exist, especially when that land is occupied by a golf course.

Audubon Society logo

Audubon Society logo.

In recent years, golf courses have become more sensitive about their reputations as environmental nightmares. Some, like Cabot Cape Cliffs and Cabot Links, carry the designation of “Certified Audubon Cooperative Society,” which Cabot says involves undergoing “a rigorous certification program” and maintaining “a high standard of environmental quality” in terms of things like wildlife and habitat management, chemical use and water conservation.

But if you’re thinking that means Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links are certified by the National Audubon Society, the US-based organization concerned with the protection of vulnerable birds and their habitat, think again. As I discovered in this 2015 article by Rachael Bale and Tom Knudson, Cabot’s designation comes from Audubon International (AI):

And Audubon International, as it turns out, is not affiliated with the venerable, bird-friendly National Audubon Society. It is something else entirely – a third-party certification organization funded by the entities it certifies: golf courses.

Bale and Knudson report that the two organizations are sometimes pitted against each other, as when AI supports a golf course the Audubon Society opposes. (The Audubon Society has actually sued AI — unsuccessfully — over the use of the name.) The article also details how golf courses certified by Audubon International kill thousands of “nuisance birds” — like Canada Geese and American coots — each year.

Audubon International logo

Audubon International logo

In 2015, Bale and Knudson said the Certified Audubon Cooperative Society designation could be achieved without an actual site visit to the course, but Audubon International CEO Christine Kane told me by email that there must be an initial visit and that courses must be “re-certified” every three years:

The first re-certification requires another site visit by an AI staff member. After that re-certifications are completed on a rotating 3-year schedule of site visits and documentation review by our staff.

Whatever Cabot’s “certifications,” an island nation that counts both fishing and ocean-based tourism among its key economic sectors would obviously need to consider the potential environmental risks posed by a golf resort like Cabot. But Alison King, chair of the Council of the Saint Lucia National Trust, told me that that Cabot began work on the golf course based on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted for the Raffles project — the golf resort originally planned for the site — in the mid-2000s. By King’s estimate, Cabot worked for “more than a year” before they finally submitted their own EIA and when they did, it did not include a marine impact study.

 

Cabot Saint Lucia is a links-style golf course, which means its designers attempt to work, as much as possible, within the contours of the natural landscape. But when the land doesn’t lie as they like it, they move it — and creating the holes involves, as King says, “scraping off all that topsoil” and vegetation. King argues that much of the environmental damage associated with golf courses occurs during the construction phase and she contends that Cabot initially didn’t have proper measures in place to avoid run-off from its operations. King says the issue was addressed only after people began noticing “plumes of sediment” going out into the ocean.

Cabot Point First Hole

Still from Cabot video showing construction of Cabot Point first hole.

Jeannine Compton-Antoine, National Trust corporate services manager — and director-designate — is a marine biologist by training, so I asked her about the environmental risks associated with Cabot Saint Lucia. (She is also, I should note, the daughter of former Saint Lucian Prime Minister John Compton and a former MP herself. She was chosen by the National Trust Council in 2019 to replace the outgoing director but then-Prime Minister Allen Chastanet refused to confirm her appointment, citing “political differences” —  Compton-Antoine was a member of Chastanet’s United Workers’ Party who left to sit as an Independent.)

Compton-Antoine told me that in the construction of a golf course there is “an immense amount of run-off” sending sedimentation into the water which could “smother and kill coral reefs and sea grass beds which are known to be in the area around the Cabot development” which would, in turn, “have an adverse effect on fish and fisheries.”

Compton-Antoine then pointed to the risks posed by the golf course’s need for water. In a fact-sheet released last year, Cabot Saint Lucia claimed:

The golf course will not use water from the country’s fresh water supply and will rely of [sic] rain water harvesting combined with the use of drought tolerant grass.

But Compton-Antoine says the area where Cabot is being developed “is a very dry area, limited rainfall, limited water” and she believes “a large amount of water would have to be pumped” to irrigate the golf course.

Saint Lucia, she says, has two main seasons: dry and wet and “especially during the dry season, there is an issue with potable water.” Moreover, according to this 2019 story about a young Saint Lucian farmer:

It goes without saying climate change is real and the impacts are being felt by us all. It is sometimes hard for farmers…to distinguish between the island’s “wet” and “dry” seasons as…it is not unusual to go an entire month with less than average rainfall in what should typically be the wet season.

Compton-Antoine worries supplying water to Cabot would “lead to a depletion in water resources from other parts of the country” and “put a strain on the existing water management and water resources for the area and for Saint Lucia.”

“So there are myriad different things that golf courses can impact in adverse ways,” says Compton-Antoine, “so there needs to be proper monitoring and proper management.”

 

As I noted last week, in Part I of this series, the aspect of Cabot Saint Lucia that has received the most attention in the Canadian media (not including the golf media) is the fact that it is sitting atop an ancient Amerindian burial site.

Alison King said the issue of Cabot Saint Lucia as an archaeological site is “a critical one.”

According to this 2020 story by Chris Lambie, the site was identified as a burial ground after Hurricane Dean exposed “multiple Indigenous graves” there in 2007:

Dutch archaeologist Corinne Hofman…a professor of Caribbean archaeology at Leiden University, helped with a rescue operation to collect and preserve human remains exposed by the massive storm.

“We found the remains of an Indigenous settlement dating from approximately 1,000 A.D. to 1,300 A.D.,” Hofman said in an interview from The Netherlands.

“The site was already heavily eroded.”

King says proponents of Cabot Saint Lucia have succeeded in confining the archaeological discussion to:

…a very small space and that is a space that was previously investigated, over many years, by many different entities. But in fact, that entire property should have been treated as a potential archeological site.

 


Instead, she says, when “they did finally bring in an archaeologist,” his work:

…was confined to that very small space and when we asked that he look further, they refused, they refused to allow him to look. So, we know full well that it’s highly likely that they would have uncovered…other archeological remains.

 

I asked Compton-Antoine, given she had once served as an MP, what she saw as the role of government in all this and she said:

Jeannine Compton-Antoine

Jeannine Compton-Antoine

There is need for government oversight. What tends to happen, in general, is that developers put pressure on governments, dangling the carrot of employment and basically threatening that they would pull the development out if they are not given the requisite concessions. So, governments tend to have to give concessions up to the hilt and, sometimes turn a blind eye, but governments really should be pushing for the sustainable development model…

Especially given that Saint Lucia is a signatory to the Escazú Agreement, a landmark treaty adopted on 4 March 2018 in Escazú, Costa Rica that:

…aims to guarantee the full and effective implementation in Latin America and the Caribbean of the rights of access to environmental information, public participation in the environmental decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.

Compton-Antoine says that having signed onto such an agreement, Saint Lucia’s government “should really take their role very seriously.” A sustainable development model, she says, is a “win/win” for everyone:

For example, with Cabot…if you are doing a golf course but destroying the environment around you, you end up having to put in artificial mitigation measures which cost more money. You’re destroying ecosystems that can be used as well for other activities, such as snorkeling and diving and all those things. So, it is the government’s responsibility to make sure that development is done in a sustainable manner…

Alison King

Alison King

Alison King agrees, she told me:

National Trust’s position has always been we have no problem with a golf course being developed in that area as long as the due diligence is done and you respect all of the rights — the environmental rights, the social rights —  we would be on board and we would have no problem.

Asked if she could point to an example of a project whose developers had done proper due diligence and respected the rights of Saint Lucians, King said:

Well, we have examples of where they haven’t. We have lessons learned from before, we have the Le Paradis project, which was also a golf course, on the east coast…[T]he project eventually failed and nothing happened and you just have these half-built, now derelict buildings, you have sediment on the national coastal areas, all it did was have adverse impacts, there was nothing positive from that project.

I can’t resist one final side trip, this one to Preslin Bay, on the east coast of Saint Lucia, where La Paradis (or, as I have begun to think of it, Hotel Ozymandias) is located.

 

Le Paradis was intended to be “a master-planned resort community” like Cabot Saint Lucia, only bigger. Spanning 554 acres, Le Paradis was to include “luxury condominiums, golf estate home sites, villas, penthouses and dock-o-miniums.” (A dockominum, I have just discovered, is a “water-based condo or apartment.”)

This sales listing for the project — which can be yours for just USD$29 million — says it went into receivership in 2009, with Phase 1 of an anticipated four phases 52% complete. It also gives you a sense of the kind of incentives the developers were granted by the Government of Saint Lucia:

  • Income tax and withholding tax exemption on rental income earned.
  • Alien landholding license fee waiver.
  • Waiver of Income Tax.
  • Stamp duty exemption.
  • Vendor’s Tax exemption

The realtor also states that the Queen’s Chain lease associated with this abandoned, 13-year-old project is “current.”

The pictures from the real estate listing show what looks like a ghost resort:

 

(You can find more photos on the website of the construction firm CPMBS, which is still advertising its involvement in the project.)

King says of Le Paradis:

[T]here was, in the rush by government and developer to get the project done and to secure more money…it sounded like, you know, they had to keep on working so they could continue to get the funding. So they just kept opening up more and more land, without regard for the environment.

For King, Le Paradis is the embodiment of the flaws in Saint Lucia’s tourism development model, which she says is “very extractive.”

I think some deep introspection is required, as a nation, to say how we should approach tourism, because the way that our tourism model sets up resorts that alienate locals. They basically want to shut locals out and it’s like there’s this enclave that is a place for these rich people to come and play.

 

Featured image: Earth-moving equipment at Cabot Saint Lucia (Source: Twitter)