By Demion McTair. Updated 11:11 a.m., Friday, July 24, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Kingstown, St. Vincent (ONE NEWS SVG) – Assurances that there will be unperturbed public access to the Buccament Bay beach when Beaches Resort becomes operational were not given by any of the speakers at the July 22, contract signing ceremony for the project.
Sandals Resorts International (SRI) signed a contract with the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on July 22, 2020, for the construction of a 330 to 350 room Beaches Resorts on the spot where the now disused Buccament Bay Resort is located.
The ceremony was broadcast live on radio and streamed live on the internet. Sandals’ Deputy Chairman, Adam Stewart, spoke, as well as several government ministers and representatives.
All beaches in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are public, by law. But, there have been notable areas of gridlock between hotel developers and locals over beach access in the past, in Buccament, Canouan, and Union Island.
The absence of a beach access statement at the contract signing for the USD $100 million dollar Beaches Resort project by Sandals, is a deviation from the position taken by PACE Developments, Canadian Investors who broke ground on January 19, 2017, to construct a resort at Peter’s Hope, also on the Leeward side of St. Vincent.
At the groundbreaking ceremony in 2017, for PACE’s Blacksands Resorts, a USD $60 million dollar project, Mr. Joseph Romano, Principal Developer at PACE said “we will not impede any public access to the beach”.
Mr. Romano’s remarks were met with applause from the audience at the ceremony.
His remarks came after much national discourse, at the time, over beach access issues on the grenadine island of Canouan.
BUCCAMENT BAY BEACH ISSUES
Some beach users and fisher folk in Buccament, had expressed concerns in 2011, that their free access to the beach was being curtailed due to the construction and subsequent operation of Harlequin’s Buccament Bay Resort.
Beach access issues arose, even when in 2008, when the resort was being constructed, developers promised that there will be no access issues.
In 2008, Project Manager for construction of the resort, Ken Picknell stated that there has never been any indication by the company that this beach (Buccament Bay Beach) was to be made accessible only by patrons of the 291 cabanas / five apartment bloc resort, according to Searchlight Newspaper.
In an eight-point release, which was issued in an effort to alleviate fears among residents of the Buccament Bay area, and the nation on a whole, it was pointed out that keeping the beach public was a condition of the planning approval and that no attempt to change this was made, Searchlight Newspaper reported in February 2008.
But, in July 2011, residents, beach users, and fisher folk in Buccament started complaining about what they described as efforts by the resort to prohibit their access to and use of the portion of the beach at the immediate front of the resort.
Searchlight Newspaper reported in July 2011, that residents were taking the resort to task over a wooden fence that was placed just before the bridge at the entrance to the resort.
The residents also complained of stones and pieces of scrap metal and galvanise, which they say come from work being done on a building at the resort, being thrown into the nearby river. Not only that, fishermen have also voiced their displeasure with the resort for having stones packed too far out into the sea, making it difficult for them to fish.
In responding to the allegations, then Vice President of Operations at the resort, Mark Sawkins, in an e-mail to SEARCHLIGHT, said the fence was erected for safety reasons, as work has begun to upgrade one of our current restaurants. He added that the fence will be modified within the next few weeks and gave the assurance that it is not permanent.
Sawkins said that he had never heard complaints about the stones being too far out in the sea. He told Searchlight that it was the first time he was hearing of the issue. The wall has been there now for three years, he stated, according to Searchlight.
Sawkins had also refuted claims that materials are being thrown into the river.
“This is not the case. We employ staff who actually clean the river from garbage coming down the river, further up than our resort starts. It is vital important for us, the river and the river bank remains clean and safe at all times. We also employ a staff member to clean the beaches on the village side,” he had told Searchlight.
According to Sawkins, a short briefing was held with then Commissioner of Police Keith Miller, as well as with the Minister of Tourism, and it was agreed that the fence is not an invasion and should remain until further notice, Searchlight reported.
GRENADINES BEACH ACCESS ISSUES
On October 31, 1990, the New Democratic Party (NDP) government signed a 99-year lease with developers to establish a distinguished luxury resort club on the southern grenadine island of Canouan.
Some two-thirds of the island was allocated for the development, in particular, lands in the northern part of the island.
When resorts and villas in the developed area become operational, beach access issues were amplified.
The beach access issues piqued in 2016, when activist Terrance Bynoe, relentlessly challenged the developers for land access to the beaches which bordered lands under the legal control of the developers.
Some locals were calling for uncontrolled access to the the beach, using lands leased and controlled by the private development.
But, the developers maintained that security of their property was an issue and that beach access will be granted when persons call ahead and indicate their desire to access a beach through their property. When that happens, a golf cart will be provided to drive them through the resort, to the selected beach.
Some residents and activists were not pleased with this and other related arrangements and maintained that beach access should not be curtailed or impeded in any manner.
Access to Chatham Bay, Union Island was an issue for years on the grenadine island as locals were sometimes met with a chained gate barring them from accessing the beach by land.
The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines took developers to court, as the developers failed to develop the area, as agreed and won at the Privy Council, the nation’s highest appellate court, based in the United Kingdom.
Chatham Bay, Union Island can now be accessed freely by all via land, as the government regained control and ownership of the 100 acres of lands in the area.