N Touch
Thursday 17 January 2019
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Unlocking charms of Maracas

Last week, eight vendors at Maracas beach got keys to new booths from Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell and an opportunity to continue their trade in tidier surroundings there. The vendors had been staring at partly finished but unusable buildings for months, uninspiring concrete structures they admitted they weren't in love with, but which represent a significant upgrade over the deteriorating structures they were relocated from.

After a troubled development process that began in 2009, often recorded and shared on social media by disappointed visitors, the Maracas Beach Facility Improvement Project is declaring a successful first phase in its work on the site. It's been a long and costly road to this point. A memorable effort at redeveloping the facilities was undertaken by NIPDEC in the 1990's at a cost of $12 million, delivering an attractive timber design which weathered well for many years. Cabinet approved $233 million in 2009 for the completion of an ambitious project to re-imagine and reconstruct the popular vacation spot.

The beach has always had three major problems that are yet to be satisfactorily and sustainably dealt with. The quality and design of the permanent buildings on the beach have been hallmarked by unsuitable designs, both aesthetic and structural. Parking for the number of vehicles that transport patrons to a distant vacation site has also been a challenge, not just in the providing of spaces, but in the management of the asphalt scarring that extensive paving imposes on the natural beauty of the beach site. There is, finally, the vexing and often painfully obvious challenge of water treatment, or more directly, the treatment of sewage that follows on from enthusiastic patronage of the charms of Maracas. In January, non-functional toilets were being flushed with sea water.

All of these issues are intensified by the geography of Maracas, which lies for the most part in a bay that's below sea level, a specific challenge for a country that's never demonstrated any capacity for handling even the entirely predictable flooding that accompanies our rainy season.

The history of this project is serpentine. In 2014, the People's Partnership government awarded it to Kallco at a cost of $85 million, which was revised to $120 million in 2015. Kallco's contract was terminated after the September 2015 elections and relaunched as the Maracas Beach Redesign and Restoration Project in May 2017 by Works Minister Rohan Sinanan at a cost of $60 million and with a time frame of four months.

There is clearly more to be done to unlock the charm of Maracas and it must be managed with an eye to the unique ecology of the site, which is as much a part of its attractiveness as the food that's served to its visitors.

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