The ending of the seawall limes

As had been intimated by Minister Benn, the Public Works Ministry on Saturday announced the end of the popular Sunday seawall limes between Kitty Byways and the Ocean View Hotel citing damage to the embankment, garbage accumulation and the traffic hazard.

The Minister’s statement had followed the extraordinary overtopping of the seawall by the Atlantic a week ago.
The Minister had said then “We intend to have that activity relocated back maybe between Camp [Road] and Vlissengen [Road], where it could be better managed… It’s a big problem for us we have to repair the embankment we have to restore the grass for erosion protection… and of course the garbage”.

He added “We have never been comfortable with that activity out there. That activity is damaging the embankment… We are going to go out there check who is out there and work with the police and others to have that activity relocated from there”.

It has taken more than five years for the Minister and the government to come to its senses about the seawall lime. It was evidently something that the Jagdeo administration envisaged as a populist strategy. Let the people have fun no matter the risk and perhaps there would be some benefit to the government.

For decades that stretch of seawall between Vlissengen Road and Turkeyen, parallel to a major artery and then later the East Coast Highway, had been enjoyed for recreation without the mass gatherings spilling onto the thoroughfare and the commercializing of the embankment.  There was good reason for this. The embankment was a pivotal sea defence bulwark which could be easily compromised by mass gatherings and it was also utterly against the rules of the highway to have cars parked (many times double-parked) in the face of flowing traffic with people running back and forth across the highway.

Such common sense and order escaped the Jagdeo administration and it saw these weekly assemblies as a thing to be cultivated. From a small crowd, the lime mushroomed into a massive gathering particularly on Sundays creating chaos in the area for many hours.

Surely, the mostly young people and others who patronize the seawall lime are perfectly entitled to a good time enjoying the sea breeze and fraternizing. Except that this should occur in purpose-built areas like the segment of the seawall between Camp Road and Vlissengen Road which had always been the locale for such gatherings. There are no traffic flows there apart from ingress and egress and no vulnerable seawall embankment. That is the order that existed which Minister Benn’s government allowed to be upset. It now has to reverse itself and repair damage to the embankment.

In an editorial dated February 29, 2008, Stabroek News had raised concerns about the dangers posed by the seawall lime.  It had referred to the lost grass cover along the embankment, the exposing of the rock layer and concerns that high tides could undermine the sea defence in the area.  The editorial had referred to statements of concern by the then Head of the Sea Defence Unit, Mr George Howard and the acting Head Ms Agnes Dalrymple over the situation. It had also referenced a statement by Minister Benn that some of the areas along the seawall would be barricaded so that repair work could occur. This happened for a brief while but was not sustained. The limers, the entertainers, video shows, the Ferris Wheel and the vendors ruled supreme for years ripping up the embankment and depositing mounds of garbage.

It appears that the recent surge of the Atlantic has impelled the Ministry into action. Damage to the embankment that could have been avoided if the Minister and his government had taken early action now has to be addressed. A burning question will undoubtedly be whether the undermining of the embankment has had any role at all in the frequency and scale of the overtopping along the Subryanville to Turkeyen area.

In a letter in the January 24, 2008 edition of Stabroek News, engineer Mr Malcolm Alli who designed the stretch of seawall had warned that the earthen embankment is a vital part of the mechanism to resist the “horizontal thrust from uprush and overtopping from high tides”. He added that the erosion and settlement of the embankment from the foot and cart traffic had weakened its ability to perform the function of resisting the horizontal thrust and cautioned that a complete redesign might be warranted. Hydrologists and engineers will have to determine whether the increasing frequency of overtopping in this area is due to the natural erosion of the foreshore or other factors such as the undermining of the embankment.

Recent developments should be taken as a seminal lesson by the Ramotar administration that populist actions that violate rules and sound judgement are dangerous and costly. The same arguments that have been raised in relation to the seawall limers have been cited in relation to the Celina Resort and its massive expansion works in a sensitive sea defence area.  Yet, the Ministry of Works and the Sea Defence Unit have turned a blind eye to them.

Sea defences are not to be trifled with. They cost an enormous amount of money to build and maintain. Much of the financing for it comes from the European Union and other donors. Nothing should be allowed to jeopardize it. This, however, does not seem to have been the guiding principle of the Ministry of Public Works in relation to the seawall lime and one hopes that the recent occurrences make it more assertive in protecting Atlantic and riverain defences.

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