Sweeting’s Cay channel continues to be a vexing issue

NO PASSING – Deputy Councillor for Sweeting’s Cay, Sherwin Tate shows where a sand bank has formed, making the channel to and from that cay impassible during low tide. (PHOTO: JENNEVA RUSSELL)

Today, Friday, February 8, The Freeport News begins a series on Sweeting’s Cay, where residents expressed concerns on a number of issues that have plagued the quaint settlement for several years. Our reporter Jaimie Smith and photographer Jenneva Russell, had the opportunity to travel to Sweeting’s Cay on Wednesday, February 6 and will tell the residents’ stories through interviews and photographs. The series begins with the island’s channel access.

Traversing the channel between Sweeting’s Cay and the eastern end of Grand Bahama during high tides and suitable weather does not pose a problem; however, low tides and adverse weather conditions which was experienced in the Northern Bahamas last week, makes mobility to and from the cay nearly impossible.

A team from this daily – Jaimie Smith, reporter and Jenneva Russell, photographer – travelled to the settlement on Wednesday, February 6, where they had the opportunity to tour the cay and speak with residents and Council members, who were all passionate about their beloved quaint community.

Council members and residents, all, shared that they do have concerns regarding the Cay. One issue that many alluded to was the rising sand bank that has, over the years, posed a problem for mariners traveling to and from the Cay.

Following a council meeting, our reporter had the opportunity to discuss the inability to pass through the channel during inclement weather and low tides, as a result of the increasing sand accumulation.

Chief Councillor, Gladstone Alexander Russell for the Sweeting’s Cay District Council expressed that during low tides, mariners are unable to pass through the channel as the sand has now clogged the area that was once accessible.

Shervin Tate, Deputy Chief Councillor, Sweeting’s Cay District Council added, “One of my concerns is the channel mouth, where our students have to go to school every morning on a boat, for five days. On a rough day they cannot get there, because of the condition of the channel mouth. The sand is now coming straight into the bay and it makes it very hard for those students to get to school.”

Dion Feaster, former Deputy Chief Councillor and present Council Member expressed, “As it relates to the community of Sweeting’s Cay, there is so much potential that lies here; it is like a sleeping giant. So many things can be done here as it relates to providing jobs, as it relates to catapulting Sweeting’s Cay to its next level.

“We as councillors are working together, fighting hard but we need some injection into our community.”

Feaster added, “We want to commend our government for their diligence and their hard work thus far, but we want to put in a plug to them that we here in Sweeting’s Cay need some financial assistance as it relates to our township.

“We have presented a budget whereby we expect to get some increase in the funding that we have been getting over the years, so that we can put proper structures in place, whereby we can look forward to moving towards putting in place some jobs for our young and upcoming persons in Sweeting’s Cay.

“I would also like to reiterate, as Deputy Chief Councillor alluded to, our channel, is in dire need of an urgent solution. If there is an emergency, it could pose a problem for mariners,” stated Feaster.

Fellow Council Member Basil Tate, also voiced his concerns regarding the issues raised regarding the impasse at the channel.

Resident Joanna Johnson, Acting Principal at Sweeting’s Cay Primary School added, “The water in the channel is very shallow. At one point the bank was off from shore, but now if the water is rough you cannot go along the low shore anymore. Persons will have to go further out (in ocean) because the bank is now too near to the shoreline, which means you cannot pass. That is a very difficult problem. That is a very dangerous thing, because if we have an emergency here … that person if they are in critical condition, they may die. We really need help with that.”

Eleanor Tate noted, “If they would just suck some of the sand that has accumulated until they can deal with the channel, because it is getting worse.”

Hulan Davis, another resident stated, “I am concerned about the channel. When tide is low you cannot get out there at all. Last week when the weather was so bad, children had to miss two days of school. Of course, they couldn’t go, because if the boat sank lives could have been lost. We cannot take that chance.”

Noting that the vexing problem with the channel has been ongoing for years, Davis said, “No one can try and get us a sand sucker to suck out the sand and give the people back the sand for their pay.”

This daily contacted the Member of Parliament for the area, Deputy Prime Minister K. Peter Turnquest, who noted that discussions are ongoing to have the problem rectified permanently as opposed to a temporary fix, which had taken place in years past.

“During high tide there is not really a big problem; however, at low tide they do have to go out into the ocean to come back and in bad weather that is almost an impossible task, and certainly not to be done safely with children. This matter is not a new matter, it has been an issue for a while,” acknowledged Turnquest.

“We have recently reached out to the Minister of Works (Desmond Bannister) to have a look at this issue. He has directed the Director of Works (Melanie Roach) to address the matter. She reported that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is necessary in order to authorize any dredging, which is really what it needs. The channel needs to be cleared. We have identified a coastal engineer to have a look at it.

“Hopefully, that will get done shortly and we can get that work started; but it is very much a matter that we are aware of and addressing. Hopefully, we will be able to come up with a cost-effective solution and a permanent solution.

“This is not the first time that the channel has had to be cleared. The last time that it was done, they did it without a study and as a result the channel closed up again. This time we want to do it right and have it addressed as quickly as possible,” stated Turnquest.

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