Beach fight | Lead Stories – Jamaica Gleaner

A legal battle between beach rights campaigners and local state agencies over public access to the Blue Lagoon Beach, via the parochial road, has been set to take place in the Portland Parish Court.
Residents and civil groups, following the shutting down of the popular tourist attraction last August, have been protesting the lack of access to the site and entry via a parochial road that remains blocked off even though the site has since reopened.
Consequently, The Jamaica Beach Birthright Environmental Movement (JaBBEM) and residents of the communities surrounding the Blue Lagoon in Portland, inclusive of Portland Environmental Action (PEA), have initiated a court action against the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), the Portland Municipal Council (PMC), as well as the special-interest beachfront property owners, namely Blue Lagoon (Jamaica) Limited, Blue Hole Investments Limited, Blue Hole Holdings Limited, and Cold Harbour Limited, for absolute and indefeasible right for the Blue Lagoon.
“The surrounding communities have taken legal action to regain/restore the public’s access rights to the public road that leads to the Blue Lagoon and beach under the Prescription Act of 1882,” stated a joint press release from JaBBEM and PET.
“We are asking the court to recognise our customary rights and declare an order giving the Jamaican public an absolute and indefeasible right to use the Blue Lagoon using the public road forever,” JaBBEM President Dr Devon Taylor told The Gleaner.
“We feel very positive about this because we have indisputable evidence to support this right, and the Jamaican people, at home and in the diaspora, as well as friends of Jamaica, want to see an end to the injustice of beach and river access exclusion,” he said.
Furthermore, Taylor said, “We feel positive because our ancestors and justice for the descendants of enslaved Africans are on our side.”
JaBBEM and the surrounding communities of the Blue Lagoon are also asking the court to recognise the absolute and indefeasible right of the public to use the Blue Lagoon, adjoining fishing beach, adjoining and adjacent lands, roads, tracks, and pathways as a means of access thereto, pursuant to the common law of custom and/or Section 4(1) of the Prescription Act.
They also want an order mandating the defendants to remove any and all obstructions to the public preventing access to the Blue Lagoon and adjoining fishing and bathing beach.
Additionally, they are seeking “an injunction restraining the defendants from blocking, constructing, obstructing, denying or otherwise depriving the public access to the fishing, bathing beach, any adjoining and adjacent lands, roads, tracks, and pathways used by the public to access the lagoon and fishing and bathing beach”.
The groups are contending that the government agencies, along with the private beachfront property owners, and/or their servants or agents, have prohibited public access to the Blue Lagoon from August 29, 2022, until June 15 this year when public access was granted.
Furthermore, they add that since June 15, the public has been required to take a new footpath over private land belonging to Blue Hole Holdings Limited (BHHL) that is either owned or associated with Sandals Resorts International (SRI), thereby forcing the public to abandon the roads, tracks, and pathways customarily used by the public to access the lagoon and beach, contrary to the Prescription Act.
At present, they say the Blue Hole Road is still blocked with barriers and private security guards, from August 29, 2022, continuously without any lawful justification, consultation, due process, or notice, contrary to the rights of the public under the Prescription Act and the common law of custom.
According to them, the new path through private land only allows for foot traffic. Vehicle access, which is important for the fishers with boats, is restricted.
“Vehicular access was always customary for the general public’s convenience and necessary to facilitate elderly and disabled members of the public who customarily access the lagoon for its therapeutic healing properties,” the release said.
According to the beach rights and environment activist, the new route through the private land is not a customary path and is not guaranteed.
It is premised on an unknown informal arrangement/agreement between the Government of Jamaica and BHHL (and/or Sandals Resorts International) as the permission for the property to be used as the access to the lagoon and beach can be terminated or rescinded at will.
tanesha.mundle@gleanerjm.com
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