TWO YEARS ago - on February 2, 2010 to be exact -- PLP Senator Jerome Fitzgerald stood on the seashore and tried to hold back the tide of progress.
He complained that Government had dismissed the concerns of his committee to save Saunders Beach, calling the committee's concerns "alarmist, political in nature" and claiming "that we were representing a special interest. Our only 'special interest' has been the Bahamian people and protecting our country for future generations," said Mr Fitzgerald. Of course, Mr Fitzgerald never disclosed the special interest to which the FNM alluded in its statement. That particular interest certainly had nothing to do with future generations of Bahamians. However, here's not the place for that story -- it can be left for another day.
Mr Fitzgerald said his committee was concerned that the dredging to move the container port to Arawak Cay would destroy the public beach. He warned that the beach "would slowly disappear." At the time of his statement, he said, it was already eroding faster than even he and his committee had expected, leaving rocks "where there was sand a few months ago." He was incensed that the environmental impact assessment conducted by an engineering company had rejected his prediction, assuring Bahamians that "the beach would not disappear." As a result he called for the resignation of Environment Minister Earl Deveaux for taking the company's advice "without any input from the BEST Commission".
"We would like all of the experts to now tell the Bahamian people where the beach has gone," said Mr Fitzgerald. "They all told us the beach would not disappear. What has happened here at Saunders Beach borders on criminal."
Mr Fitzgerald said the intention was to move the container port to Arawak Cay "at all cost."
"That cost," he said, "is now obviously the complete destruction of Saunders Beach and the surrounding environment at Arawak Cay. Saunders Beach will soon be no more."
At the time, we said in this column that Mr Fitzgerald was talking rubbish. He obviously had not lived near the ocean and observed the ebb and flow of tides, of how the building of groynes and breakwaters created beaches, even trapping the seasonal pile up of seaweed as though the Bahamas was located in the middle of the Sargasso Sea. We had faith that Saunders Beach was going nowhere, particularly as it was being enlarged, enhanced and protected.
As hundreds of Bahamians this Easter weekend enjoyed their magnificent beach -- larger that it had ever been-- they had every reason to mock Mr Fitzgerald and his "voice of doom" committee. Mr Fitzgerald wanted the experts to tell them where the beach had gone. Here Bahamians were two years later enjoying a beach that the PLP Senator had claimed had disappeared.
We have listened to almost a year of complaints from citizens as the FNM, during a worldwide recession, decided to use taxpayers' dollars to create a priceless investment for present and future Bahamians. Despite the fact of continuing unemployment, many jobs were created with the improvement of the country's infrastructure. This weekend all we have heard is praise as Bahamians, packed their picnic hampers and headed for the beaches -- both at Saunders and the splendid new creation at Montagu. Only a few years before the cry was that there were no decent public beaches to enjoy.
If nothing else, the FNM has to be praised for the recreational areas now available to all Bahamians.
"You ought to see out west," a friend said to us yesterday. "There is the beach, there are recreation areas for the children that are used daily, there are picnic areas, benches on which to relax, and that roundabout is beautiful. There are wide pavements where people can walk and jog and where they daily exercise. There are beautiful shade trees. The wetlands are preserved. Really you must go -- it is beautiful!"
Yesterday was not a day to go. The traffic buildup with families headed to the beach was too much to face, but we certainly intend to go when the holiday is over.
As for Montagu. What was just a few months ago a living nightmare for motorists is now an unbelievable delight. In the "old days" when the Montagu hotel was full during the winter tourist season, Bahamians left the beach in front of the hotel for the exclusive use of the visitors. Out of season-- during the summer months - Bahamians used the full stretch of beach. Yesterday, Bahamian families and tourists shared the whole beach, and all appeared to be having a good time. Visitors, touring the island on motorbikes, pulled up, and went to the beach to enjoy a dip, or stretched off in the sun to get a tan.
If nothing else, Bahamians now have beaches that they can enjoy and call their own. It is the FNM government that they should thank for spending their tax dollars wisely and creating areas, not only for their enjoyment, but for the enjoyment of generations to come. We hope that all Bahamians will take pride in their new recreation areas and keep them spotlessly clean.