Sat | Sep 26, 2020

Why Gov’t shut down Spanish Bridge

Published:Wednesday | August 12, 2020 | 12:08 AMGareth Davis Sr/Gleaner Writer
A section of the crowd at Spanish Bridge in St Mary on Sunday, August 9. The leisure area was ordered closed, effective August 14, by Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie.
A section of the crowd at Spanish Bridge in St Mary on Sunday, August 9. The leisure area was ordered closed, effective August 14, by Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie.

WHITE RIVER VALLEY, St Mary:

Despite the risks associated with the new coronavirus and painstaking appeals to residents by local health authorities, patrons continue to flock to the popular St Mary attraction, Spanish Bridge, oblivious to safety guidelines.

Those breaches forced the hand of Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, who announced in Parliament on Tuesday the lockdown of 17 beaches and 19 rivers, including Spanish Bridge, effective August 14.

Operators who flout the strictures of the Disaster Risk Management Act - the legislation that governs COVID-19 protocols - could face a penalty of up to $1 million.

Spanish Bridge was singled out for caustic criticism by McKenzie on Tuesday.

A Sunday afternoon visit to the attraction, located in the White River Valley bordering St Mary and St Ann, revealed that the police were hard-pressed to control the overflow of patrons, causing a pile-up of traffic.

“We are not letting anymore vehicles through,” said a seemingly frustrated traffic cop, who pointed out, without prodding, that there were about “2,000” patrons at the location, exceeding the 250 allowed to attend any leisure venue.

A birthday party and other events were being hosted nearby, The Gleaner learnt.

OVERWHELMED FORCES

The police, seemingly overwhelmed, eventually gave way to the throng of patrons demanding access, worsening the traffic jam.

After a near three-hour wait, the Gleaner news team eventually gained access about 4:15 p.m. and saw rivergoers frolicking in breach of six-foot distancing laws.

There was no cover charge to access the river and no shortage of volunteers to assist visitors – for an expected tip. Vendors, including those renting water shoes and vests and selling food, also ignored coronavirus health and safety guidelines.

Such breaches have not gone unnoticed by Port Maria Mayor Richard Creary.

Creary said that municipal officials were mulling over a proposal from property owners in the area to mount a barrier to prevent traffic jams.

“We are well aware of it, and we have had several meetings with the various agencies in trying to come up with a strategy to deal with it,” Creary told The Gleaner on Monday.

“... It is, however, still a challenge.”

St Mary Western Member of Parliament Robert Montague said that it was now a police matter.

“They need to act!” he said.