About FRANKLY SPEAKING
Beach Access: An Opinion
Resident Tourism Policy
Paralysis by Analysis
Oil Refinery - Facts or Fiction?
An Oil Refinery for Dominica? - Part 2
A Place Called Home
Annual Awards Gala - DHTA
Dominica Cabinet - 2010
Thanks But No Thanks
The People's Business
Politics of Water
Message in a Bottle
Between the Lines
The 24/7/4/12/5 Campaign
The Answers Within
Foreign Direct Investment
CSME - Where now?
"En Brera" - No Choice
Closure of OECS, Ottawa
Does Size Matter
Growing DA's Agriculture
A University of Dominica?
Made In Dominica?
© Frank Watty
BEACH ACCESS - AN OPINION REPORT
Aug. 29/2006 - Recent discussions have been taking place in Dominica regarding the issue of access by locals to the island’s beaches on which resort tourism projects are proposed. These discussions are obviously part and parcel of a much larger needed national dialogue on the role and place of tourism in the island’s development agenda. Similarly, these discussions raise fundamental questions, conflicts, impacts and repercussions that a tourism development programme engenders and demand an appropriate framework for resolution of this and other inevitable “points of friction”.
One would have thought that considering the abundance of expensive and time-consuming studies and reports which have been concluded on the tourism option for Dominica, the beach access issue would have been recognized, addressed and even some directions given to assist current policy formulation. That appears not to be the case! Accordingly, the potential for confrontation, frustration and cancellation of tourism development proposals as a result of poorly conceived or impotent government efforts, is more and more becoming a reality. This issue has come to light in the case of the “Woodford Hill Proposal”, as reported in the media.
Tourism programming and the occasional clash of perspectives, priorities and cultures attendant on it demands a level of sensitivity seldom encountered in other sectoral development efforts. The case of public access by local residents whether by right or by leave, to beaches slated for resort development (particularly by non-national development interests) is not new, even in the Caribbean. Witness the case of Barbados (1980-1983) where the hotel industry, concerned about the risk of crimes against, and harassment of, tourists by “beach boys” and vendors gave rise to the provocative calypso, “Jack”, by the Mighty Gaby:
“Jack don’ wan me to bathe on my beach,
Jack tell dem to kick me out-ta-reach,
Jack tell dem ah will neva mek-de-grade,
So strengthen security n’ buil barricade.
“Dat cyan happen here in dis country,
Ah wan Jack to know dat de beach belong to we,
Dat cyan happen here, over my dead body,
Tell big guts Jack, Gaby say, de beach belong to we.”
The object of derision in these lyrics was Mr. Jack Dear, Q.C., then Chairman of the Barbados Board of Tourism who was uncomfortably perched on the horns of a dilemma, attempting to grapple with a variety of issues, not unlike those which are now the subject of the Woodford Hill discussions:
Neither the Barbados controversy nor the Woodford Hill discussion confronted the likelihood that underlying the issue might be (consciously or unconsciously) a motivation of separating the tourist from the natives in order to calm the anxieties, phobias and mis-apprehensions of the tourist who was typically white and wealthy. Secondly, Caribbean tourism policy has lamentably failed miserably to prepare the local population for the implications of expanded tourism, its importance to the economy, and its sensitivity to issues of lawlessness, insecurity and crime and the necessity of being welcoming hosts. Neither have public authorities, particularly the criminal justice system, been resolute in proceeding aggressively enough in dealing with crimes against tourists.
To the extent that this issue rests primarily upon notions of segregating of visitors from locals or the sequestration of tourists for exploitation by the hotel/resort operator, there can be little sympathy for evoking a restricted access policy in such situations. On the other hand, where the resort facility is designed, built, marketed and caters to a clientele which expects a level of privacy and quality of facility inconsistent with an open beach policy, then conditions exist for considering a negotiated restricted access policy based on the solid and irreversible principle that the beach remains in public ownership.
In the Woodford Hill case, there is incontrovertible evidence that the subject beach is one of the best on the island, and has been consistently used by surrounding villages as a favorite bathing and picnicking site. Equally true, a number of recreational site evaluation studies have identified this beach and surrounding lands as prime locations for a ‘flagship” resort tourism complex involving, hotels, villas, marinas, shopping, golfing, and a variety of passive recreational uses (Shankland and Cox). Also undeniable is the fact that should development proceed, it would provide stable and lucrative employment, during and post-construction, for a region whose economic prospects are now very challenging, and which suffers from out-migration of the ambitious young. Not to be ignored is the prospect that this and similar developments provide as consumers of agricultural produce from the surrounding areas.
The way in which the Woodford Hill issue is resolved holds tremendous implications for other similar applications elsewhere in the country, which is not one blessed with an abundance of safe, attractive beaches. This issue cannot therefore be addressed or resolved in isolation.
There is not sufficient information available to the writer at this time as to whether or not the Woodford Hill Bay lands under ownership by the applicants lend themselves to being easily sealed off from un-authorised public entry by artificial means. Even if this were the case, it would not be a socially desirable resolution of the matter, and not one to be countenanced by government.
It is possible to develop a framework which is understandable and implementable, which furthers the inviolate principle of public land stewardship, which is fair and reasonable to all parties, and which does not jeopardize a responsible public tourism development program:
Lastly, a resolution of this issue cannot be left to a determination between surrounding villagers and the developer or government agencies (as proxy for the developer) as appears to be the process presently being followed. A satisfactory resolution may conceivably require legislative change to curtail public access to the nation’s beaches. In any event, unorganized scattered villagers cannot be presumed to possess the countervail power to confront the development interest. The residents of the Village of Woodford Hill and surrounding areas cannot be expected to speak for all Dominicans-at-large, who are the rightful owners of the beach. They are not corporate entities with the capacity to hold the developer to negotiated performances, nor can they themselves to be legally bound by similar obligations.
This is a matter for Government, as custodian of the public interest, to address through public policy consequent on good technical advice. Any other approach would be an unfortunate abdication of responsibility!
The author of this OPINION REPORT is W.R.Franklin Watty, a Dominica national, and a professional economist, land use planner and tourism consultant. He is a former economist and planner with the Province of Ontario; the former Director of Planning and Transportation for the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. In addition, he has served for twelve years as a professional mediator, negotiator and arbitrator in the Ministry of the Attorney General, Government of Ontario. He is currently retired from public service; is the Principal of Frank Watty Consultancies Inc., economic, land use and tourism planners; and is Adjunct Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Waterloo. He can be reached at email@example.com.