Editorial

There are no free lunches, or beaches

Thursday, September 05, 2019

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After a brave attempt at upgrading the popular Fort Clarence Beach, east of Portmore, St Catherine, the state-run Urban Development Corporation (UDC) has decided to partner with a private sector firm, still hoping to realise its original dream.

Starting last Sunday, UDC handed over the management and operation of the beach to the Kenny Benjamin-owned Guardsman Hospitality Limited (GHL), but retains ownership of the property.

Going by what Guardsman Hospitality has done with the Puerto Seco Beach in Discovery Bay, St Ann, the UDC appears to have found a viable solution to upgrading and improving public beaches under its control.

The difference with the 16-hectare Fort Clarence Beach, however, is that it will not be owned by GHL, as is the case with Puerto Seco, for which critics lashed the Government for parting with such an iconic facility.

GHL won its bid for a 25-year lease on the basis of a development plan which features enhanced site infrastructure, upgrades to restrooms and changing facilities, the restaurant and bar, as well as new land and sea-based activities. GHL will also be responsible for maintaining Fort Clarence Beach, including addressing the influx of sargassum (seaweed) impacting Jamaica's south coast.

UDC admitted that it went the way of divestment “because of unsustainable annual losses at the facility”, and the fiscal constraints limiting its “ability to fully implement its development plans for the property”.

The bald reality is that many beaches which were free to the public have over the years deteriorated or become so unsafe that patrons have abandoned them. There is no getting around the fact that it takes cash to maintain beaches in the pristine condition that the public desires and deserves.

We have taken note of one very critical feature of the pact with Guardsman Hospitality – the agreement to deal with the sargussum from Brazil which is on its way to Jamaica, threatening to severely harm the island's tourism and beaches in particular.

“This one is from Brazil and it is coming as a result of nutrients and climate change activities and, therefore, this sargassum is potent and dangerous, because it destroys marine life. It destroys the fish sanctuary and it comes in waves and covers large swathes of beaches and oceanfront. And, it has a hugely pungent odour,” Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett warned in June this year.

At the time, Mr Bartlett cautioned that it would take nine months to reach Jamaica, recalling that Barbados had suffered greatly from a dreadful sargussum assault in 2011.

We hope that the minister has been following up with his promise to undertake a joint partnership project aimed at arresting the seaweed before it reaches the island and involving the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which utilises technology to sink the seaweed to the bottom of the sea before it reaches the shore.

“We are having preliminary discussions with a team from MIT that has done some forward technological breakthrough in the area of arresting and sinking the sargassum to the bottom of the sea, so that it doesn't reach us at all,” he said then.

In fact, now would be a good time for Mr Bartlett to update the nation on where he has reached with his plan, because our tourism is the last thing we need to mess around with.


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