Fears over national park land as three-wheeler legislation goes through Senate
Parts of national parks are under threat from controversial moves to allow three-wheeler tour guide vehicles into the green spaces, the Opposition has insisted.
The One Bermuda Alliance and the Government clashed yesterday on the issue of whether ministers now have the power to allow such tours to go off the paved parts of the protected areas as the Senate passed legislation opening up national parks to a wider range of transportation.
The move comes after the same legislation stalled in the Senate last October when the Opposition raised similar concerns about the environmental impact.
At that point, OBA and independent senators united to add an amendment designed to ban tour vehicles from national parks by six votes to five.
However, last month, the House of Assembly again backed the original legislation.
But ministers insisted that discussions had been held with green groups, opposition members and private citizens on the issue since last autumn’s showdown in the Senate.
As it went before the Senate again yesterday, Ben Smith, the One Bermuda Alliance leader in the Upper House, insisted the legislation be changed to make it clear a minister could not allow routes outside paved areas.
He told fellow senators: “We object on the grounds that a minister can approve a route that would go off the paved portions of the parks.
“Not necessarily the transport minister, but we want to put that protection in the legislation.”
John Wight, an independent senator, backed the objections.
He said: “This legislation may have the effect of admitting three, and four-wheel vehicles to make guided tours within the Bermuda National Parks system without limitation and leave the decision primarily up to a single minister, or perhaps, two ministers.
“My understanding of this legislation is that the Parks Department would set the licensing rules for the three-wheel guided tours in national parks with the minister controlling the Parks Department having absolute discretionary powers under the 1986 National Parks Act to ignore or arbitrarily overrule any advice he receives from either the Parks Department or the Parks Commission.”
Ernest Peets, the Government Leader of the Senate, and the Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, said a transport minister could not alter routes into green areas.
He said: “That particular ability and discretion does not fall with the Minister of Transport.
“He cannot approve a vehicle to go off of the main road into a protected area.”
Michelle Simmons, an independent senator and Senate vice-president, said the vehicles were more like the tuk-tuks familiar in Asia.
She said: “As I understand it, the impact on our national parks will be minimal because the vehicles, which are more in the form of tuk-tuks, are not allowed to go off road.”
The Reverend Emily Gail Dill, the Junior Minister for Transport, told senators the Government was aware of an entrepreneur, who she did not name, who had expressed an interest in starting tours once the legislation became law.
The three OBA senators, and Mr Wight, voted against the third reading of the Motor Car (Liveries) Amendment Act 2022, but the measures were approved six to four.
Joan Dillas-Wright, President of the Senate, declared the Bill “passed” in the Upper House.