Intense ownership dilemma rocking Burwood Beach - … Trelawny municipality, businessman both claiming rights to property
T he Burwood Beach, near Falmouth in Trelawny, is now locked in a python-like grip of controversy, as businessman Rodger Jobson and the Trelawny Municipal Corporation (TMC) are both claiming ownership of the lands surrounding the popular coast.
According to Dr Carey Wallace, chairman of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), which spent J$28 million to refurbish the beach in 2016, he has seen documents indicating that the lands belong to the TMC. However, Jobson has also produced papers supporting his ownership claim.
“The land belongs to the municipality,” Wallace told The Sunday Gleaner. “Valuation number 1000130004 at the National Land Agency recognises that the land surrounding the beach belongs to the municipality. We could not spend $28 million and not have legal rights to the land.”
However, efforts by Falmouth’s mayor Colin Gager, who is also chairman of TMC, to divest the land is being challenged on several fronts by Jobson; former mayor Garth Wilkinson, a current councillor in the municipality; and former councillor Fernandez Smith.
“How can they plan to divest the beach which allows poor people to relax and go for a swim? It should not be thought of much more to be put in place. It is an indication of how the powers that be feel about poor people,” said Smith, in rejecting the divestment idea.
Dennis Meadows, who ran on the Jamaica Labour Party’s ticket in the last general election, is in support of the mayor’s bid to go the divestment route, arguing that the move would facilitate better management of the facility.
“I support the divestment. The government must facilitate and regulate business. In this case, the municipality cannot afford the expense to maintain the beach. They must, however, ensure that the interest of the public is paramount in their decision-making,” said Meadows.
To further compound the issue, Jobson recently gave instructions to have the perimeter chain-link fence surrounding a section of the property cut down, as well as had the locks on the bathrooms changed and all signs put up by TEF removed.
“I have been in dialogue with the municipality to regularise the situation,” said the defiant Jobson. “As recently as July 12, 2019, my lawyer wrote to the municipality and they requested three months to arrive at an amicable solution. When that time passed and nothing happened, I moved in to claim my property.”
The uncertain situation at the beach was highlighted by the fact that Jobson has had the entrance to the parking area chained up, preventing parking. The parking area was temporarily opened on Ash Wednesday and attendants were there charging a fee. However, The Sunday Gleaner was not able to determine who was behind the parking arrangements.
Before the fencing was removed, Jamaicans were allowed to use the beach free of charge, but guests from visiting cruise ships were required to pay a fee. On Ash Wednesday, with no fencing, persons were able to freely access the beach.
Jobson, who is seemingly frustrated with the failure of the TMC to meet with him and have the matter resolved, said he is ready to put some investment dollars into the operation of the beach.
“I have a $50-million plan to construct a glass greenhouse. The plan is to plant tomatoes, sweet peppers and melons. The building which they (TEF) have built on my land will be needed for storage,” said Jobson.
With neither Mayor Gager nor Andrew Harrison, TMC’s chief executive officer, making himself available to discuss the matter with The Sunday Gleaner, promoter Clint Myrie, who has a rental arrangement with the TMC to use the facility on March 8, is now worried that with the fencing removed, he will not be able to secure the venue.
“I cannot now cancel because artistes have been paid deposits. No fencing so patrons will just walk in without payment. I will have to put up temporary fencing, for which the municipality will have to pay me,” said Myrie.