Pastor-Ris: We are the first defenders of the reef!
November 5, 2010
Pastor-Ris: We are the first defenders of the reef!

Achille Pastor-Ris, President and Chief Executive Officer of Canouan Resorts Development (CRD) has stoutly defended his company in the face of allegations that they are involved in practices which are harmful to the environment.{{more}}

In recent weeks, there have been media reports that the company has been involved in dredging and suggestions have been made that they were involved in the demolition of part of the barrier reef which runs along the eastern or Atlantic side of the island (see graphic at right).

Pastor-Ris finds suggestions that his company, as developers, demolished part of the reef to provide easier access to one of the bays, “absurd”.

In an interview with Searchlight on Friday, October 29, he said, “We are the first defenders of the reef…. This is our value…. I know there is a hole in the reef that has been there for a long time, I have been told by fishermen.”

He said the fishermen told him that when they move between Union Island and Bequia in their speed boats, they enter the reef at the south to escape the rougher waters on the outside of the reef. This allows them to move faster. They then exit through the passage or “hole” in the reef, further north.

“The reef is the most important thing. It is the only reason we can have a resort on the eastern side of the island. The reef is protecting us, it is protecting the beach. We are the first defenders of the reef.”

His position was supported by Bridget King, who was born and raised in Canouan, and is an employee of CRD. She told SEARCHLIGHT that she was disappointed when she read claims that in the recent past, part of the reef had been demolished to provide easier access to one of the bays. “That is not a true picture. The passage out there was there from way back when.”

King, who said she had been working in the area of the development “long before the first piece of wood (went) up,” is of the view that the path through the reef is “natural”.

What of Point de Jour Bay (see graphic), which has been the centre of controversy recently because of the dredging that is taking place there?

Searchlight visited Point de Jour beach on Friday, October 29, and saw a barge anchored just off shore, and a large rubber hose, coming from out to sea, lying on the sand. No one was on the barge when we were there and no sand was being dredged at the time.

Pastor-Ris, while admitting that sand is being “replaced” on the beach, said he does not consider what is taking place at Point de Jour “dredging”.

“For me, dredging is excavation. What we are doing is using a rubber pipe to move sand from one place to another. We are re-seeding or replenishing the beach.

“Every year, we call this barge to re-seed the beach or replenish the beach.”

He said the practice is normal and is done everywhere in the Caribbean at the end of the hurricane season to ensure that there is a “nice beach” for the winter season. He cited St. Lucia and Bequia as islands where the practice is carried out.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, defines dredging as “an excavation activity or operation usually carried out at least partly underwater, in shallow seas or fresh water areas with the purpose of gathering up bottom sediments and disposing of them at a different location…. It is also used as a way to replenish sand on some public beaches, where too much sand has been lost because of coastal erosion.”

In any case, Pastor-Ris added, the activity that is taking place is not happening on the reef, and the agreement between CRD and the Government states that dredging operations should not take place within the reef, which to him, implies that it can happen elsewhere.

But who demarcates the boundaries of the reef and who is the independent monitor of the dredging activity to ensure that the reef, a most important underwater ecosystem, is not negatively impacted?

The lease agreement says that the developers are not required to obtain from Government any building permits, licences or other approval for development; in other words, no “planning permission”.

However, the agreement also says that the lease and the performance thereof, “shall be governed, interpreted, construed and regulated by the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.

So is this being done?

We put this question to Town Planner Anthony Bowman, who said the dredging activity at Point de Jour had only recently been drawn to his attention.

When asked how matters like these are addressed, given the fact that the developers lease agreement does not require them to have planning permission, Bowman said, “We try to investigate the matter and have discussions with the persons involved and try to make sure they comply as much as possible with the tenets of the Act.”

Bowman also drew Searchlight’s attention to Section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act which says that the Board may request an environmental impact assessment where it is of the opinion that developmental activities in a prescribed area is causing or is likely to cause pollution or is otherwise having or is likely to have an adverse affect on the environment.

The Planning Division falls under the Ministry of Housing, Informal Human Settlements, Land and Surveys, Physical Planning and Local Government.

Permanent Secretary in that Ministry, Kenrick Glynn, added, “based on the findings of any investigation, reports will be made to the relevant authority, so that any necessary action can be taken.”

Glynn said the relevant authority in this case is the Physical Planning Board and Cabinet.

The northern two thirds of the 1,800 acre island was leased in 1990 for 99 years to Canouan Resorts Development (CRD) Ltd., and since then, there has been tremendous development on the property. The resort, built up around Carenage Bay, and which was formerly managed by Raffles, is now managed by Carenage Bay Resort. It consists of 60 villas on 30 acres of land. In addition to that, Canouan Realty Ltd., trading as The Grenadines Estate, has constructed and sold approximately 25 villas constructed on 50 acres of land, at prices ranging from US$2.5 million to US$5 million.