PORT MARIA, St Mary — Amid growing scepticism among residents about the long-awaited transformation of Pagee Beach in this parish capital, the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) is urging patience.
“Bear with us a little,” said Johan Rampair, projects director at the agency, which falls under the tourism ministry. “We want to ensure that the Pagee project and all beach projects are executed to the best of the Government's ability to ensure that the people benefit.”
The TEF adopted the proposed project over a year ago from another Government entity, the Tourism Product Development Company.
Since then, the TEF has been going through procedures such as tendering and taking steps to ensure there is no breach of Government's procurement guidelines regarding Pagee Beach.
The facility is expected to have changing rooms, bathrooms, gazebos, lifeguard huts, a restaurant, bars, commercial shops, waste water treatment plant, and parking lot.
Those fixes would address lingering concerns about the lack of amenities on the beach, as well as the authorities' failure to tap into the potential for tourism at Pagee.
Donovan McDonald, who is among residents living on an expanse of land that adjoins the beach, said he is not pleased that successive governments have been dragging their feet when it comes to development of the area.
“Mr Government, yuh need to intervene... Wi nuh have nuh help; wi nuh have nuh representative,” he claimed.
He noted that there is no bathroom or changing room on the beach, adding that a bathroom at the neighbouring Pagee Fishing Village is out of operation due to a lack of electricity and piped water.
Oniel Thomas, 49, spoke of the need to have toilets in place. As a child, he said, they used nearby bushes, but houses have now been built in those spots, leaving beach-goers with nowhere to relieve themselves.
“This is modern time. Wi need somewhere to [go to the bathroom]. I see beach that is less beautiful [than Pagee]...and they have facilities,” he said.
A senior citizen, George McLean, said the development of Pagee Beach is not far-fetched, adding that the area once was a favourite with tourists.
“Tourists used to full the beach here in my young boy days. Now, you only see one and two tourists pass through,” he lamented.
Harassment and crime are virtually non-existent at Pagee, according to Carl Oldfield, a justice of the peace who lives in the community. That peace, he noted, is crucial to tourism.
“We have one of the best beaches in Jamaica. It is nature-made; it is not man-made. This beach just needs somebody to come in and get it moving,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
The Member of Parliament for St Mary Central where Pagee Beach is located, Dr Morais Guy, also added his voice to the many clamouring for the TEF project to get off the ground.
“I am again making the appeal that I have been making for the past five years for the development of proper facilities at Pagee Beach,” he said in the Parliament on October 27 during his state of the constituency presentation.
“This was all set to start in 2015/2016 with plans drawn, approved, and passed by the then parish council, but never proceeded after the 2016 elections. Despite promises each year in the Standing Finance Committee that the project would be starting, we are waiting with baited breath for the start of the construction,” Dr Guy said.
In the meantime, the TEF's Rampair, while declaring that the Pagee project has not been abandoned, expressed hope that the initiative will boost economic activity in the area.
He also noted that residents will not be charged to access the beach, and that the Pagee Fishing Village will not be displaced.
“It is the position of the Government, in particular the TEF, to ensure that all beaches are free to the public... We want to be able to offer community residents the opportunity to earn a living from the beach and spur the economy in the local community,” Rampair told the Observer.