Lands Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly told Cayman 27 the February release of the mammoth lands and survey beach access report comes at a critical point in the development of our islands.
The group Cayman Beach Watch traces the first beach access conflicts to the 1950’s and 60’s. Now, decades later, beach access is still a hot-button issue in our island community.
In the early 2000’s, the Concerned Citizens Group mobilised, collecting some 500 affidavits crucial in identifying more than 200 beach access paths. These affidavits gathered dust for several years, but a high profile fight to save Smith’s Barcadere from developers and other beach access friction points thrust the issue back into the spotlight.
Spurred on by a late 2016 motion from East End MLA Arden McLean to protect beach access rights, work on the 1,174 page report began in the waning months of Kurt Tibbetts’ tenure as Lands Minister.
“For many many decades Caymanian persons as well as expatriates have had the luxury of enjoying the beach, if you would drive along the roadside and you saw a picturesque cove, you would get out of your car with your family or your significant other and go,” said Ms. O’Connor-Connolly.
She recalled the days gone by, before the pressures of development put the squeeze on access to Cayman’s beaches.
“Development has come, prosperity has come, and if we do not take the necessary steps to document and preserve it whether through the prescription act or through it’s going to court, then we are going to find that not only the Caymanian but visitors alike would lose that wonderful privilege of going down to the sea,” said Ms. O’Connor-Connolly.
She told Cayman 27 the 2017 beach access report comes at a significant juncture in the development of our islands, and is logical starting point for the 8-member Public Lands Commission appointed early this year.
“We are about to move off not just from emotional feelings, but we have data that has been collected that they can springboard and work from,” said Ms. O’Connor-Connolly. “We are working together with the parks and recreation unit to make sure that they are cleared, that proper signage is put up.”
She said for Caymanians land is sacred.
“I mean, if you first arrive here you hear ‘You don’t touch the family, you don’t touch the significant other, you don’t touch their land, and if you really want to have a civil war, you mess with the Caymanians property’ and I don’t think we really have to go that way,” said Ms. O’Connor-Connolly.
After decades of beach access conflicts, could the report and commission signal a new dawn?
“This commission isn’t a utopia, but certainly it is a method and a tool that we can use to try to keep that synergy there,” she said.
Ms. O’Connor-Connolly told Cayman 27 the report represents a valiant effort to document all beach accesses in our three islands, but she admits there may be some that did not see inclusion in the report.
The public is urged to come forward to the Public Lands Commission if they believe a beach access should be included in the report.