On Prospect Point Road, a chain-link fence blocks access to an overgrown path that leads to the beach.
Fastened to the fence, a sign warns, “Private Property, Keep Out.” Right next to it, a distinctive brown public beach access sign contradicts this instruction and directs tourists and beachgoers toward the blocked path.
The “keep out” sign was apparently erected on behalf of a private landowner, said to be concerned about drug use and damage to his property by those using the path.
The conflicting signs in Prospect are just the latest example of the tension between coastal landowners and beachgoers over the contentious issue of rights of access to Cayman’s beaches.
A year after legislation was passed in an effort to protect public access and ensure proper maintenance of beach paths, the long-running problem appears to have only got worse.
Multiple public beach access paths around Grand Cayman remain blocked, while additional accesses have been cut off and conflicts between hotel security guards and sunbathers over rights to the beach continue to be reported.
In the past month, residents have also reported access paths blocked along Seven Mile Beach and at Boggy Sand Road in West Bay.
Government moved to deal with the issue late last year by making amendments to the Prescriptions Law and the Registered Land Law, and creating a new Public Land Use Law, which officials said were designed to allow government to register access paths and compel landowners to keep them open to the public.
The Lands and Survey Department did not respond to requests for a progress update on efforts to implement the new legislation, which included a provision for a new unit to enforce beach access rights and monitor commercial activity on the beaches.
Premier Alden McLaughlin indicated in his budget policy statement that the unit had been set up, though it does not appear to be operational as yet.
He said, “We will be further strengthening the public’s rights to beach access through policies, procedures and regulations that guide the operations of the Public Lands Commission, which was established in June this year. This commission will ensure that beach access by the public is safeguarded and maintained on all three of our islands.”
The Security Centre issued a statement in reference to the blocked access on Prospect Point Road, indicating it had been asked to secure the access on behalf of a client.
“The customer expressed to us that he felt that the beach access was being used for illegal activities that included destruction of private property and drug use and the gate access was installed to protect property and to ensure that legal use was made of the access in the future,” the company said in a statement.
A separate but related issue concerning the rights of access to public beaches in front of hotels and condos also raised its head again this week after Kimpton Seafire manager Steven Andre moved to address social media reports that security guards were asking tourists to move from the stretch of Seven Mile Beach in front of the hotel telling them it was reserved for guests.
Mr. Andre said he was not present for the alleged incident, but would ensure his security staff understood the responsibility to allow access and usage of the beach in front of the hotel.
“We fully understand the rights of the public to beach access. We have chairs in front of the hotel which are for guests, but we know there is public space along the beach for people to use if they would like.”
He said the chairs and pool area were for guests, but the beach was open to all, and his staff had never been instructed to prevent people from using the beach.
“It is not our business to throw people off public beaches,” he added, saying the hotel was keen to ensure it complied with the required legal boundaries.
Similar conflicts have been reported at hotels and condo developments along the beach for several years.
In its guidelines to hotels and beachfront property owners, the Department of Tourism indicates hoteliers have a responsibility to allow beach access to the public. It indicates that this extends beyond the high water mark, commonly held to be the dividing line between public and private property.
In its “guidelines for owners and managers of beachfront properties” it states, “Whilst members of the public have no rights to use private property such as beach furniture which belongs to beachfront property owners, they may not be prevented from using the beach or passing to and fro along the beach even where the beach they use is on private land.
“Hotel managers should ensure that all staff working on the beach such as security personnel and food and beverage staff are aware of the law and that the public right to use any part of the beach is not restricted or limited in any way.”