By Kenton X. Chance
The northern third of Canouan, where the government has leased 1,200 acres of land to foreign investors and to which residents of the island continue their decades-old push for access to public beaches, “is a gated community”, says Director of Grenadines Affairs, Edwin Snagg.
A gated community generally refers to a group of houses, surrounded by fences or walls, that can only be entered by the people who live there or who have special permission to enter.
Last week, fresh protests erupted on the southern Grenadine island after developers began erecting a gate in what islanders, including Debra Foyle-Snagg aka Debbie, a leading voice among the protestors, say is the public road.
All beaches in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are public, but some people trying to access beaches by land in the north of Canouan have encountered challenges doing so, as they have to pass through the resort to get to those beaches.
The situation dates back to the early 1990s when the Sir James Mitchell New Democratic Party government leased two thirds of the 1,800-acre islands to Canouan Resorts Development (CRD) for 99 years.
Terry Bynoe, who has played a major role in protests for beach access in Canouan since the 1990s, told iWitness News on Thursday that he was “trying to be a mediator between the two to try make peace between the government and the investors”.
In June, Bynoe told iWitness News, in Canouan, that the beach access issues had been resolved.
But he told iWitness News last week that he had asked the investors to halt construction of the gate “until authorities sort it out.
“But like they ain’t decide to do so,” he said, adding that he could not say whether the area where the gate was being constructed was public.
“The authorities need to tell us if when [former prime minister, the late James] Mitchell leased the land he leased the road,” Bynoe told iWitness News.
He said if the lease included the road, “we have no right to be fighting the investors for the road.
“We will then be asking the government to provide us with access to all public beaches, and they will still have to acquire the people’s private land to get access to the public beaches,” the activist told iWitness News.
“So, if the road is public, nobody’s allowed to build nothing across the public road. You catch me? So, it’s answers we’re looking for.”
‘The people are the government’
Speaking to iWitness News separately, on Thursday, Foyle-Snagg said she had been protesting for 23 days for access to the beaches in the area.
The gate is being erected at the entrance to the resort and would most likely replace a security boom that regulates access to the resort — the only land access to several beaches in the north of the island.
“And now they’re going to put a big iron gate. You can neither see in nor out to speak to anybody to say, well, okay, you need to get to the beach. They’re putting up a gate and once the gate go up, is an electrical gate, we wouldn’t be able to pass,” Foyle-Snagg said.
“We are protesting the gate in the government road,” she said.
Foyle-Snagg said public access to beaches in the area is important for current and future generations of Vincentians, including her grandchildren.
She said “they” were chasing people away at the security boom when they try to seek access to the beaches.
“But the beach is not about me or Terry. It is about every single person who wants to use the beach.”
Foyle-Snagg said Bynoe came when she was doing a live video and said that the government had said to give them some time to deal with the situation.
She said she then left the protest site but when she got home, people began calling her saying that the investors were continuing to work on the gate.
“The columns already cast … full swing to take the gate. So, we can’t allow a gate to go up in the government road. No! No!” Foyle-Snagg told iWitness News.
“What they are doing there is wrong. You cannot override the people. The people are the government. Why are you going to put a gate in the main road. This road takes you from the bank, take you round the back overlooking Godahl and all of these places and come back behind my house and come back down to the bank,” she said.
Gate not in the public road
Meanwhile the Grenadines Affairs Director told iWitness News that he was aware that the gate was being erected and that the matter was being dealt with by the Minister for Grenadines Affairs, Senator Benarva Browne.
“And I don’t want to go into the minute details of it. … They are not erecting a gate in the public road,” Snagg told iWitness News, adding that the resort was erecting the gate “on their property”.
“And of course, they have an arrangement with people entering the particular facility to have access to the beaches up at the north.”
He said the gate was being erected about nine metres away from the boom.
“… from my understanding and what I was told, and from a site visit that I made, the gate that is being erected is just an electronic gate,” he said.
He said the electronic gate “does not interfere with the arrangement that they have with the islanders in terms of people having access to go into the resort to access the beaches up at the north”.
Snagg confirmed that all the beaches in the north of Canouan can only be access via sea or by passing through the resort.
“… and there is an arrangement where notification is given. They provide people with a golf cart, they take them to the beaches, they indicate whatever time they would like to have them return for them and that has been taking place for some time.”
Asked why such “control” was necessary, Snagg said:
“Would you have a five-star resort and we do not have control in terms of access into the particular area?”
He spoke of a need for a balance.
“Of course, there must be a balance because hear what is happening is that you have a five-star resort established. … If I could put it this way, it is in fact like a gated community.
“The reality about it is that once you are not impeded from going to the beach — you mean, the thing about it is that you don’t think that if you have a five-star resort that there will be need for management of persons entering that resort and security concerns?”
Snagg said there has to be cooperation among the parties involved, adding that there has been an arrangement in place though which people access the beaches in the north of the island.
“I have to look at this thing in a very mature way because would you want to have it just open and don’t have any gate and you drive through a resort of that nature and magnitude? It’s best we don’t have it.
“Somebody will pass you with a motorbike at 2 a.m. in the morning,” he said an imitated the sound of a motorcycle.
Snagg said no beach access can be provided outside the resort, even as he noted that 1,200 acres of land were leased to CRD for tourism development.
Snagg dismissed the idea that the lease can be amended to provide public access to the beaches.
“But then how could you amend something in which you have been millions – I don’t know, if not billions of dollars spent?
“How do you amend such a lease when all buildings have been erected, villas and so on and thing constructed and you have a resort, and then you have I don’t know how many persons are currently employed?”
“My thing about it is the issue is not the gate. The issue is the question of access. And once there is access, and the public has access, and the management has indicated that they have absolutely no intention of reneging on the current arrangement with relation or the access to the beach because fishermen walk in there. As a matter of fact, they are putting a pedestrian gate and a gate for vehicles.”
He said that when the NDP administration leased the 1,200 acres of land to the investors, the arrangement “included roads that took you to these various beaches.
“And since the resort is now built and established and the lease was for the entire area, then it involves all the public roads that exists in that particular area. So, to say now, that there is a gate across the public road, the entire place was originally public,” Snagg said
He said there has to be “a semblance of balance.
“Would you allow Tom, Dick and Harry to just drive their private vehicles in and throughout the entire place because I understand that circumstances like that have taken place before. And fully well knowing our people too, as I said, there are those who would ride in with a motorbike in the wee hours of the morning. Because they does do it in the public places where we live here. And sometimes we can’t sleep and we wake up at two o’clock and hear motorbikes….
“So, I just drawing reference to what does take place our society. And what we have is a gated community. The thing about it is that you can’t blame anybody for looking hotel development at the time when the arrangement was needed.
“But what I think now is that there is a gentleman’s agreement with relation to access to these beaches and probably it needs to go in to a legal framework so that no management or security personnel in the future could make any amendments or changes to it and there would always be access and there is a particular arrangement. That’s my view on the thing.”