Gareth Manning, Sunday Gleaner Reporter
Residents of Fairy Hill in Portland, through the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and a private attorney-at-law, have filed court actions to establish a right to access the Winnifred Beach in the parish. The cases are to be heard on August 8 and 13.
The residents, who use the Winnifred Beach,, are complaining bitterly over what they say is becoming a trend to deprive the public of access to the best beaches in Portland. The beach, which was taken over by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) in 1976, is to be developed to include 29 residential lots and beach cottages, as well as conveniences at a charge.
According to attorney representing the Winnifred Beach Defence Committee, Marcus Goffe, there is an increasing trend to give away beaches for commercial development in Portland. The San San Beach and Blue Lagoon, for example - two of the parish's best - are now privately operated and can only be accessed by the public for a fee. Some fees, however, are being quoted in U.S. dollars, beyond what most residents can afford.
Both Goffe and the NRCA are maintaining that residents have a right, based on custom, to access the beach under the Prescription Act, meaning they can claim a right to access the beach if they have been using it for fishing, bathing or recreational purposes for 20 years or more.
Incorporate the people
Whilehe is not opposed to the development of the beach, Goffe is concerned about the inclusion of private cottages. "It would be better for the UDC to incorporate the people and maintain the beach as it is," he suggests. Furthermore, he wants the residents' prescriptive right to be included in the land title.
For 50-year-old Barbara Simpson, the beach provides the income that sends her four children to school. She is a one-stop vendor on the beach, selling from cigarettes to ackee and saltfish.
"Me born come see my father using the beach and my father is well in his 80s now," Simpson tells The Sunday Gleaner. "When them take it over and set it up for the big people, how fisherman going come in here?"
But the UDC maintains that the property will remain accessible to the public once development is complete.
"Our position in relation to Winnifred Beach is similar to other such public beaches which the UDC has developed and now maintains for the benefit of the public, including Long Bay Beach Park in Hanover, Ocho Rios Bay Beach in St. Ann, Bluefields Beach Park in Westmoreland and Fort Clarence Beach in St. Catherine," the corporation told The Sunday Gleaner in an emailed response to our queries.
"These developments reflect the UDC's general position to maintain public access to beaches and reflect the mandate of our minister to continue to develop beaches to which the public can have access," the UDC continued.
However, illegal vendors will not be accommodated on the beach once development is completed, the UDC stressed. It added, however, that opportunities for employment would be available to the evicted vendors during the construction period and when the property is in operation.