Canadian fashion designer Peter Nygard has landed in the middle of a major environmental clash in the Bahamas which could forever change the island country's laws.
The billionaire, who owns a large property in the Bahamas that has been featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and in Forbes magazine, faces allegations from local residents and environmental groups who say he has been expanding his massive estate without regard for the environment.
The environmental group Save the Bays alleges Mr. Nygard has been trapping sand and dredging the seabed in order to build out his beachfront property at a site he has renamed Nygard Cay.
Opponents say that development threatens the ecosystem of a nearby bay area – a picturesque spot used as a backdrop for scenes in Jaws, the Flipper television series, and James Bond movies.
Several high profile neighbours, including Robert F. Kennedy and Sean Connery, have added their names to lawsuits against the Bahamanian government opposing Mr. Nygard's development plans.
Though Mr. Nygard could not be reached for comment through his lawyer in Winnipeg, the wealthy designer has issued a statement disputing the claims that he is harming the environment.
However, the case could lead to changes to the laws overseeing private development on the idyllic island.
Last week, the Bahamian Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction halting all development applications Mr. Nygard has filed with the island government.
A public hearing will be held Aug. 12 to determine whether that temporary injunction should continue until a trial, which will determine whether the laws overseeing development will be reworked.
Save the Bays lawyer Fred Smith said the local groups want to see a development approval process put in place that is similar to other countries, including Canada, where proposals are put forward for public comment and are done with transparency.
The group has alleged Mr. Nygard has been a supporter of the local government and has therefore faced no opposition getting his proposals cleared, including the construction of a wall along one stretch of shoreline.
"What we say is, if you are going to [develop], whether you are Bahamian or foreigner, you must respect the locals, respect our environment," Mr. Smith said. "Just like if we went to Canada, Mr. Nygard and other Canadians would expect us to be respectful of the public spaces and not simply take them over."
Mr. Smith described Nygard Cay as "basically a private archipelago," which he added, "is not a problem if you want to do it properly, with environmentally sustainable methods."
Mr. Nygard's lawyer could not be reached for comment Monday. In a recent statement issued through his legal team, Mr. Nygard said he has "been a champion of the Bahamas and specifically the preservation" of the area in question "for more than 30 years."
He accused the Save the Bays campaign of being a "front" for his wealthy neighbour Louis Bacon, of Moore Capital Management, saying Mr. Bacon covets his property and has tried to get him to sell it in the past. However, Mr. Nygard said he has refused to sell.