Plans to remove 180,000 square feet of seagrass to create a swimming area at Barkers beach are unworkable and should be rejected, the Department of Environment has advised.
The Coastal Works Application was submitted by Calico Jack’s owner Handel Whittaker as part of a plan to move the popular beach bar to West Bay.
The plan was backed by the Dart group, which owns the land. The Department of Environment has highlighted multiple concerns about the proposal and has advised Cabinet it should not be approved.
A report to Cabinet, posted on the DoE’s website this week, suggests the proposal would cause significant habitat loss within a Replenishment Zone, which is a protected area. It adds that the plan is simply not feasible and would not achieve the desired effect of creating a tourist-friendly beach off Barkers.
Representatives of the Dart group and Mr. Whittaker have indicated they are open to amending their plans in the wake of the report. A spokeswoman for Dart said the company had met with the DoE this week to begin “dialogue on possible alternative options.”
The DoE report suggests that the Barkers coastline is not suitable for the kind of commercial development envisaged.
“There are still many unknowns with respect to the land-side development associated with these works and this will likely serve as a ‘gateway’ project to further development in Barkers,” the report from the DoE’s technical review committee warns.
“As the proposed works will cause significant adverse impacts on the environment and will not succeed in creating the intended Seven Mile Beach experience, the Department of Environment does not believe that the proposals are justified nor that they will live up to the expectations of the developer or create the predicted economic benefits.”
Cabinet has final decision-making authority over the application, filed by Mr. Whittaker’s company, Adventures in Taste, which seeks approval for the “removal of sea grass to facilitate swim beaches” over an area equivalent in size to around three football fields and stretching across a 1,300-foot parcel of beach.
It also includes plans for a T-shaped pier stretching 300 feet into the ocean, with a 120-foot dock for tour boats and visiting pleasure craft.
The DoE also raised concerns about increased boat activity in relation to the pier impacting marine life.
From a practical perspective, the report suggests the prevailing weather conditions, including consistent, direct onshore winds, will make the creation of a pleasant swimming beach impossible.
“A direct onshore wind means that the water quality will be poor and dead sea grass and regular Sargassum [seaweed] beaching events will continually fill the excavated area. The site will be least suitable during the height of the tourism season, when north-east winds are most common and when an alternative to Seven Mile Beach would be needed most,” the report stated.
According to the report, removing the sea-grass beds would cause significant adverse effects for a number of key species, including conch and lobster. It would also destroy live coral, cause beach erosion, impact a turtle nesting beach and potentially affect plans for a national park on the rest of Barkers.
The report also highlights approximately 117 letters of objection to the proposal from members of the public, as well as a hand-signed petition with 365 objections and an online petition with 2,678 objections.
An overriding public concern is that this would be a gateway project opening the way to unsustainable development in an area that has traditionally been left untouched, the report notes.
The DoE also noted that significant information about the scale of the land-side development, management of tourist numbers and the operating procedures in relation to the beach facility were missing from the application.
“It should be borne in mind that we have not had access to the plans for the land-based facility, nor have we been provided with any concrete data regarding predicted level of footfall or use of the area as a result of the development. There have been a very large number of objections and valid concerns raised by a wide cross section of the community regarding the application, and the DoE strongly recommends that these objections are considered in full.
Calico Jack’s Mr. Whittaker, whose lease on Dart-owned land on Seven Mile Beach runs out next year, has previously indicated he wants to move the bar to Dart land in Barkers and create a Rum Point-style attraction on the western side of the island.
Dart said in a statement to the Compass Wednesday that it was open to discussions over alternative plans.
It stated, “Dart and applicant Handel Whittaker presented the application for a Coastal Works Licence at Barkers to caucus last week. It was recommended that we meet with the Department of Environment. At the meeting yesterday, we discussed the report and began dialogue on possible alternative options.
“Dart remains committed to striking the balance between meeting the demands of a growing tourism industry and environmental sustainability, and will work collaboratively with the Department of Environment to find a solution that meets these dual objectives.”