PLETTENBERG BAY NEWS - There has been anger among Plettenberg Bay residents over the fencing off of beaches along the coastal holiday town's shoreline, even before national government announced beach closures in December last year, but the Bitou Municipality has said it was a necessary step in curbing the spread of Covid-19.
"The municipal council and the municipality as a whole are serious about the Covid-19 pandemic. Loved ones have been lost in this town, while the effects of staff absenteeism and low morale as a result of positive testing, enforced self-isolation and related matters have been and still are being felt.
"The safety of the staff, the residents and the visitors to the area are deemed to be of paramount importance," said municipal spokesman Andile Namntu.
He added that it was for these reasons that the council specifically considered measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic when the seasonal plan - which is normally aimed to ensure service delivery and related aspects during the holiday period - was discussed and considered on 27 November last year.
Council agreed that it would be necessary to control numbers at the different beaches for an "undetermined period" and that funding would be made available from the municipal budget to do so.
"It is important to note that this resolution was taken in a council meeting open to the public and nearly three weeks before anybody (including the municipality) was aware of the 'beach lockdown' that came into operation on 16 December 2020," Namntu said.
"The decision to fence off certain areas was therefore not directly related to the 'beach lockdown'."
When the fencing started going up, residents were hot under the collar for several reasons, including the aesthetics of the project.
"When the specifications for the fencing were prepared, aesthetic appearance, although considered, were not the most important criteria. Functionality and cost-effectiveness were regarded as more important," explained Namntu.
Although the town's most popular beach, Central Beach, was the focus of the council discussion, Namntu said, it was necessary to extend the fencing to include other beaches too. "It would have served little purpose if the Central Beach area was fenced off only to find people accessing the same beach from Hobie Beach. As a result, Hobie Beach was also fenced off."
Namntu further explained that during the initial beach closures, introduced on 16 December last year, large numbers of people flocked to the Keurbooms Estuary at Poortjies in an uncontrolled manner, and it became clear that the only manner to manage numbers in that area would be by means of fencing in appropriate places.
"The Covid-19 pandemic will not go away overnight. Through its actions, the Bitou Municipality has shown that it is committed, willing to and able to control the number of people that may be allowed on the different beaches, and it is hoped that this will play a role and be recognised should a similar 'beach lockdown' be considered during the Easter holiday season."
The initial fencing needed was 430m to cover Central Beach, the picnic area in Odlands Drive, Lookout Beach and the Nature's Valley River mouth. It is unclear what the final length of the fencing is after the Poortjies area was also included.
In terms of permission for the erection of the fences, the municipality said that no permission was required as it formed part of the municipality's operational procedures under the direction of the relevant officials.
It is also still unclear how much was spent on the fencing, but it has been confirmed that three companies were appointed to complete the work. As time was of the essence, normal supply chain procedures did not apply, but after the council meeting decision, the municipality sent out a request to all suppliers for relevant work registered on the municipality's database.
Only three suppliers responded to the invitation.
'We bring you the latest Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route news'