The mayor sells his beach plan. Perhaps, atop the $120 million initially budgeted for all the sand and the commercial enterprises to be built on sand, erosion might be controlled by a small additional expense to order snake oil from China to spray on the new artificial beaches. Photo by the Alcaldia.
City council jams through the mayor’s artificial beach scheme on a holiday
by Eric Jackson
Generally speaking, when Panamanian politicians do something on a holiday, it’s nefarious. They do it on a holiday in hopes that few people will pay attention.
And so it was that on January 9 those who were paying attention to news other than the patriotic proclamations and ceremonies may have seen the announcement that the capital’s city council approved the mayor’s proposal for artificial beaches in front of the Cinta Costera.
Along two stretches of waterfront adding up to 1.8 kilometers in length, the city will spend an initial $120 million, mostly to the operators of sand mining barges and to construction companies that will send in bulldozers to distribute and smooth sand to add to existing sand and refuse just the other side of the Cinta Costera seawalls. On top of that, the city proposes restaurants, kiosks, an amphitheater and roads to service these new businesses on the beach and perhaps yeyes in riding ATVs on the sand.
It’s a high-priced power play wherein politicians who may or may not receive kickbacks align with construction interest that historically pay kickbacks against the city’s environmentalists and better educated citizens.
Actually, one does not have to be all that well educated to figure that when the confluence of high tide and heavy waves regularly splashes over the Cinta Costera seawalls, elemental forces would wash away sand deposited on the ocean side of the seawall.
Then, there is the uneducated smell test. The Matasnillo River, which would empty out at one end of the proposed artificial beach complex, is not as gross as it was when there was no environmental enforcement at all against sewage hookups into the storm drains, but it still stinks and the part on the Punta Paitilla side of the river’s mouth is hardly used for that reason.
So, who will lead the inevitable protest movement? The first demonstration, on January 15 in front of City Hall, is called by former vice mayor, architect and environmental activist Raisa Banfield. She is for municipal beaches — conditioned for recreational use on beaches that already exist but are unused because they are covered with trash and because the water in Panama Bay is still pretty gross.
Banfield also raises questions about from whence the sand will come. She notes that erosion problems along Punta Chame, and in the Perlas Archipelago where bird nesting areas have been damaged, are in part the results of unrestricted mining of sea floor sand that changes currents and wave action.
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