THE toughest political issues – those that wake a sleepy village and plunge it into frenzied activity or turn the sleepwalker into a firebrand – are those that impact our own backyards.
You are not a political activist? Watch what you become when you learn that a halfway house for serious sex offenders is about to be built on your street. You don’t care about climate change, thinking they’ll fix it if it gets worse? Watch what happens when your street is flooded.
Backyard issues are so volatile that they can determine the outcome of elections, especially at the local level.
Even without real local government, there’s no bigger backyard problem in the Bahamas than beach access. As far as beaches are concerned, who owns the rights?
It affects all of us, those who own a coin and those who just want to use a coin. The question lingers unanswered, simmering underground, until every now and then there is a new event, another door erected, another access denied and the question of who has the right anyway flares up. and bubbles up before she returns and stays that way until the next time.
Whose beach is it anyway? Maybe it wouldn’t be so important if the waters weren’t so much a part of who and what we are. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad that we couldn’t stop anywhere and go for a walk or a swim if the sea weren’t so blue, so clear, so inviting and inviting.
Maybe we wouldn’t feel like we were being deprived of something we thought we were entitled to, even though part of us understands that if this beach was our backyard, we might not want that strangers hang out and have a family reunion on it.
But the beach is so close to our hearts that it is part of us and we are part of it. We walk past and yet it’s not ours, like a lover we had and still want but can’t touch. A tease, a desire to lie down on the heat of the sand and wade in the coolness of the abyss. And we continue to drive, nostalgia.
Romance and emotion aside, soft sand is a tricky subject.
From a scientific point of view, the reasoning is plausible. We are aquatic beings. Our body is made up of 70% water. So is the Earth. In the Bahamas, the percentage is even higher (although Wikipedia is wrong). We are approximately 5,300 square miles of land in 100,000 square miles of open ocean or 260,000 square miles of water if you include the exclusive economic zone that extends from the outer limits of inland waters out to 200 nautical miles towards the outside. Our ancestors sailed the seas and lived on its generosity. Our deep connection to water is historic and by extension our connection to the shore is not just a fantasy, it is ingrained as surely as our DNA.
This all brings us back to the question of whose beach is it anyway?
If only the answer was clear. But it is not and may never be. We are certain of certain things. The law favors private property rights to dry sand, public access rights to wet sand, or so-called above and below the mean high water mark.
In truth, there are more questions than answers that became apparent after Florida passed House Bill 631 in 2018. Signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, it tilts in favor of private versus public. putting the onus on those who seek access to sue through the courts instead of those who want to preserve privacy and it takes away a local government’s power to decide such matters, again placing the onus on that entity of establish the reason.
The irony is that with all the money invested in restoring beaches in Florida, taxpayers can be denied access to a beach or arrested for trespassing on a beach their tax dollars helped restore. About 60% of beaches in Florida are privately owned and we can only assume that in New Providence the figure is even higher. In short, it grants a “superior right to possession of real property” to those who hold the deed rather than to those whom history and habitation might favor.
If that were the case here, Cabbage Beach vendors would have no case to bear, but the political climate being what it is in these sensitive months, it would be surprising not to see some form of compromise and resolution. .
Although the solution is not easy as so much development has already taken place and investors have poured hundreds of millions into resorts where customers appreciate the beauty that we often cannot approach, it is not too late to register access in the family islands and on much of Grand Bahama. One example in Florida stands out – after losing much of the southern end of the city’s beaches to private development, the city of Boca Raton in Palm Beach County woke up and felt the salty air. The entire northern length – some of the most expensive real estate in the southern United States – is public beach after public beach and all development is across A1A, the ocean road. Residents have the best of both worlds, a view and access, and that’s a lesson we can learn before another door closes and it’s too late.
Expired BPC Licenses
It is rare to celebrate the expiration of a license, but when the Minister of Environment and Housing, Romauld Ferreira, announced yesterday that licenses held by Bahamas Petroleum Company, BPC, had expired and were due fresh in government since 2017, it was hard not to hit the air with joy.
We thank our lucky stars that the initial drilling for oil did not produce commercially viable quantities. Let’s do what we should have done all along, let’s invest in solar, wind and carbon credits. We were given a second chance. Perhaps Sam Duncombe can call a moment of national relief. Let’s not waste the reprieve.