Green groups hit back at Burch on ATVs
Two environmental groups have expressed concern after complaints about a controversial plan for commercial quad bike tours were dismissed by the Minister of Public Works.
The Bermuda National Trust said it was disappointed with Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch's comment that anyone living east of White Hill will have no say on the issue.
Jonathan Starling, executive director with Greenrock, added that it was “unfortunate” that Colonel Burch “seems to be coming out in a combative manner” and taking the issue personally.
However, support for Colonel Burch came from former One Bermuda Alliance minister Sylvan Richards, who was in favour of the proposal while in Cabinet.
More than 600 people, including 500 from east of White Hill, have registered concerns over the proposal for all-terrain vehicles on the Railway Trail and protected reserves in Sandys.
However, on Monday, Colonel Burch said he was sick of Bermuda being the “country of no” and that only the views of those living near the area would be considered.
Reacting yesterday, a National Trust spokesman said people from across the island deserved a say in how the Railway Trail and protected areas in the West End were used.
The spokesman explained: “These are national parks and it would not be natural justice to exclude any members of the public from answering the request for consultation on this important matter.”
Mr Starling said Mr Burch's comments were “not conducive to discourse around this matter”.
He added: “It seems more likely to polarise than to encourage constructive dialogue.”
Mr Starling said that residents who could be directly impacted by the plan “have unique concerns due to their proximity, and these should be weighted accordingly”.
He added: “However, the impact of this decision is not limited just to those concerns. The Railway Trail and our national parks are collective, national treasures and what happens with them affects us all.
“We all use and benefit from them, and decisions affecting them affect us all.”
Mr Richards, MP for Hamilton South, said he shared Colonel Burch's sentiments.
He explained: “All too often, some Bermudians tend to automatically default to a ‘no' position without contemplating or considering possible compromises that may be available that all parties can agree to and live with.
“Bermuda is competing with other tourist destinations in the Caribbean that offer similar tour excursions.
“We, as Bermudians, have to decide whether we want to continue to be competitive in the tourism business or not by offering amenities that appeal to this younger visitor demographic.”
Mr Richards, the former environment and planning minister, said the quad bike proposal had been “subject to a campaign of misinformation and unnecessary hysteria by those opposed”.
He added that a “misrepresentation” had been perpetuated through pictures posted on social media showing “persons abroad operating high-powered 600cc ATVs in a reckless manner, as if this is what is being proposed for Bermuda.
“It is not.”
Mr Richards said he met last year with Rudolph “Buddy” Hollis and his son, the pair behind the quad bike tour proposal.
He said he looked at the plan to promote Bermuda tourism “from an eco-tourism, cultural and historical perspective”.
Mr Richards said the proposal also fit with the Bermuda Tourism Authority's desire to offer activities targeted at younger visitors.
He described of the plan: “The pitch was for a two-hour, low-speed, guided tour occurring twice a day, except Sundays along designated portions of the Railway Trail.”
Mr Richards said that he was told that the proposal had been given the support of the Parks Commission “to operate on parts of the Railway Trail which were not considered environmentally sensitive in nature” in October of 2015.
He added: “I gave my conditional approval for the proposal, subject to certain conditions being met.”
Mr Richards said the conditions were that meetings be held to get feedback from the public in the West End, and that the operators get all necessary permissions to legally operate the tours, including licensing from TCD.
A spokeswoman for the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce said that it was “unfortunate” that facts related to the proposal were not previously available to the public.
She added that Mr Richards's assertion that there had been a ‘campaign of misinformation and unnecessary hysteria' by those against the plan was a “self-serving exaggeration”.
The spokeswoman added: “There are legislative requirements that appear to have been intentionally bypassed and should not have been.”
Mr Starling said it was unfair to suggest that the public was falling for misinformation.
He explained: “The Government has had the ability to provide that information all along and help make sure the public can make an informed decision of support or opposition.”
Mr Richards said he stood by the decision he made about the proposal while minister.
He added: “I wish the operators success in their future endeavours.”