Former Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe.
By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITH less than a month before the western public access to Cabbage Beach is set to close, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe insists the use of the beach by Bahamians must remain "indisputable".
However, despite Mr Wilchcombe's assurance, scores of Bahamians who work on and enjoy the popular Paradise Island beach said they aren't "completely sure" what effect the closure - on December 31 - would have.
One member of the Cabbage Beach Business Owners Association (CBBOA) contacted by The Tribune argued that the move "all but guarantees that we have no more space here to run our daily businesses". Another added: "This was intentional, they are saying that Bahamians can still come, but not mentioning that we can no longer sell the items we sell."
As it stands, the parcel of land providing access to the beach is adjacent to the eastern boundary of the Riu Paradise Island Hotel.
The easement, which has been used for many years, is one of two remaining public access points to Cabbage Beach. The other is further east, by the Paradise Island Beach Club at the end of Garden Drive.
Vendors claim that the eastern easement does not provide the leeway for them to transport products and other aspects key to their services onto the beach.
Additionally, they indicated that once on the beach sections previously zoned to be used by vendors are now considered private property - therefore ruling out the possibility of operating there.
Ownership of Cabbage Beach was transferred from Atlantis (Brookfield) to a subsidiary of Access Industries in 2014. Last month vendors were handed a notice saying it would be closed at the end of December signed by Sandeena Neely, associate legal counsel, and dated November 24.
Mr Wilchcombe told The Tribune that he intends to meet representatives of the property in the coming weeks to discuss the use of the beach and arrangements for vendors.
Access Industries earlier this year announced plans to develop the property, which brought the initial notice to close the easement in early October.
Atlantis noted in a statement then that access to the beach over the privately-owned property has always been on a temporary basis and as authorised by the owners.
Asked by the Tribune if the property's new owners could limit access to the beach Mr Wilchcombe said: "Not that I am aware of."
"This circumstance has been allowed to play out like this because they don't want the vendors here, we know that," suggested one longstanding vendor.
"When we first came out here to push our products, it was a small group of us and if you look around today we have a big group. Some do what they want, other do things that cause issues. Some people end up out her the correct way, while others play the system and force their way out here.
"I don't care what message the government is trying to put out there; they knew what was coming. They could have sat down with us and we could have worked something out. When they close this gate (on December 31), some of us will be unemployed while the others do what they do - talk to they MP to get somewhere else."
It is unclear how many registered vendors operate at Cabbage Beach.
There is also uncertainty over the validity of the CBBOA with sources within the Ministry of Tourism claiming that the organisation doesn't represent all the vendors operating at the beach.