Plans to enhance Smith Barcadere have been put on hold until further public consultation is held and agreement on a way forward is found, officials announced Saturday.
They made the undertaking at a ‘protest picnic’ organised by the group People for the Protection of Smith Barcadere at the popular Sound Church Street beach.
A meeting has been planned for the South Sound Community Centre to discuss the proposed plans. A date for the meeting is yet to be confirmed.
Infrastructure Minister Joey Hew, addressing the protest, which was attended by about 200 people, said government is committed to finding a solution.
“We now have an opportunity and we are showing the willingness to sit down and discuss it, so that is where we are. There’s no trick, there’s no wool over your eyes. There’s nothing happening. Nothing will happen until the committee has an opportunity to sit down with the councillor [Barbara Conolly] and with your committee, discuss the plans and come up with a solution that benefits the entire country as a whole,” he told the protesters.
The minister said there appeared to be a breakdown in communication over the progress of the project.
“Miss Barbara [Conolly] and myself, even as a minister, only became aware of the tender when you all did,” Hew said.
The latest developments in the project were first highlighted by the Cayman Compass last month after a tender was posted on government’s public procurement portal. Plans posted with the tender showed a 45-car parking lot, an arch at the beach entrance, walkways, additional bathroom blocks and timber cabanas.
A Ministry of Commerce and Infrastructure statement issued in early February showed a revised plan with a smaller parking lot, no arch and walkways. It said work would be limited to the land adjacent to the beach that was purchased by government in 2016.
It also stated work was expected to begin in March.
However, on Saturday, Infrastructure Ministry Deputy Chief Officer Tristan Hydes said that was not the case. He said no work was starting in March.
Tempers flared at the meeting when Smith Barcadere Committee chairman A.L. Thompson attempted to explain why the committee felt the parking lot was necessary. He said it was the “number one problem”.
Thompson, who lives opposite the beach, said parking is problematic on Sundays and public holidays as people park along the roadside, in his driveway and on the sidewalk.
However, Cruise Port Referendum’s Mario Rankin challenged Thompson on his position, calling on him to give up some of his land for parking.
Protesters also questioned why two stakes had been planted on the land near the beach.
Hydes said he had instructed Lands and Survey surveyors to place the stakes so attendees would see where the work would be done, and it was not placed there as an indication that work was starting.
He also defended the plans, telling protesters that renderings that appeared in the Compass were not the final plans and that the intention was to revise what was presented as is the case during the tendering process.
He also said no information can be shared during that process.
Hew built on Hydes’ point, saying that tenders can involve “months and months” of negotiations after the preferred bidder has been selected and, at that time, numerous changes can be made. “They have not signed any contracts and even after contracts are signed, you can still make changes,” he said.
The tender on the project remains in place.
Calls were made at the meeting to withdraw the tender on the project, but there was no commitment from the government officials present to do so.
George Town South MLA Conolly said she was committed to working on a plan everyone will be happy with.
Berna Cummins, one of the organisers of the demonstration, urged government officials to ensure when the beach land is registered that it is done as one parcel and all the covenants that apply to the beach are applied to the land adjacent.
She added that the group is not against cruise shippers going to the beach and sharing the space, “but to a certain extent, we want to be able to enjoy the local eco-living here.”
She said they want the beach to remain in its natural state.