Transforming A 72-acre Island Into A Private Resort
Build Time: 2+ years | Size of Project: 72-acre island | Awards: 1. “Most Outstanding Landscape” Florida Nursery & Landscape Grower’s Association 2015 2. New Installation Environmentally Sustainable Site 3. Roy Rood Award for Most Outstanding Entry
Malcolm Miller is no stranger to the Caribbean. As a landscape architect and designer based in Florida, he has frequently made the trek to the islands to install a project or oversee plant materials. In 2009, he had the opportunity to help transform a fishing island outpost in the Bahamas into a luxury tropical resort powered by wind and solar energy harnessed by three wind turbines and a 1.5-acre solar field.
As the site director, Malcolm designed, specified and oversaw the hardscaping, decks, plant installation and irrigation for select areas throughout the island. Working abroad has its challenges with logistics, additional taxes and duties, but Malcolm knew that Over Yonder Cay was the project of a lifetime. He worked on-site during the week and made trips home on the weekends for over two years.
With a work site about 200 miles from the Florida coast and uninhabited by people, Malcolm’s first task was assembling a crew. He transported 100 workers to the island to stay for the duration of construction and had an additional 30-40 brought in daily on boats from neighboring local islands.
With a crew living on-site, he had to ensure they had food, water and shelter. Materials were delivered to the island on ships and seaplanes, so the team built service roads so shipments could be moved to their staging areas. When he requested supplies, Malcolm ordered more than he needed so they would not have to stop in the middle of a build or install.
“We had to learn very early that whenever you send your list of things [you need], make sure you have at least one or two extras of everything that you order because it’s not like you can just run down to the store and pick something up,” he says.
The first resource they needed to find was water for plant materials, concrete and for the crew to drink. They used reverse osmosis water makers to turn the seawater surrounding them into purified drinking water. Rainwater and runoff were collected into cisterns across the island to use for plant irrigation.
Malcolm’s plant palette needed to work in tropical conditions. He sourced trees and plants from nearby nurseries and tree farms in the Bahamas and Miami. He chose drought-friendly plants using the principles he learned working in Florida so they could withstand island weather conditions, including hurricanes.
“Having done a lot of hurricane work throughout the Caribbean, I learned construction methodologies on how to prepare for storms,” he says. “I learned a lot about erosion, erosion control, sustainability and restoration.”
Malcolm also incorporated existing vegetation into the design to limit the amount of material shipped. Knowing that maintenance crews may not be on site after the project was completed, he choseplant material that would not need to becut back or fertilized.
The hardscaping materials were selected to work with the landscape but provide a luxurious feel to the property. Florida keystone, Dominican coral stone and Florida oolite stone were imported, but Malcolm also used native limestone sourced on the island.
“To build the foundations for the new wind towers, we had to excavate a 30 by 30 foot hole to hold the wind generators. With that, we brought in trenchers and cut out a grid of limestone,” he says. “We popped those blocks out and used them for retaining walls, which gave us a morenatural look.”
The Over Yonder Cay project took two years, thousands of hours of labor and multiple trips back and forth to the states for supplies, but Malcolm would not trade the experience.
“I’m very proud of the work that we did. On every project we take on, we have the attitude that we try to give our 110 percent,” he says. “That’s what is rewarding about being in the industry.”