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Bauxite legacy projects making waves in Discovery Bay

Lance
Neita

Monday, January 08, 2018

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In keeping with the fact that a new year means renewal, Discovery Bay residents are looking forward to the opening of two visitor attractions in early 2018 — a renovated Puerto Seco Beach, and a push cart-based show called 'Show Kart', which is catching the attention of tourism interests.

The famous Puerto Seco Beach in Discovery Bay is to be reopened shortly under the management of lessees Guardsman Group Limited. Puerto Seco has been undergoing a makeover since it was closed to the public almost two years ago. The entrance, reception areas, parking lots, and the general landscape and architecture look as grand as any five-star hotel lobby on the north coast.

Local residents can be forgiven for their impatience as they have been awaiting the return of access to what old-timers call Kaiser Beach, a public amenity that has attracted thousands of Jamaicans and tourists over many years.

Guardsman Group and Kenny Benjamin have demonstrated a growing interest in tourism projects, and it is understood that plans for the new development include water attractions, a zoo, a beachfront that can compete with any such facility in the world, and a bandstand.

I believe the beach to be one of the best in Jamaica, but whether locals will be able to afford entrance fees is a topical question as communication on the plans have been sparse. Residents speak proudly, however, of the changes and modernisation, and regard them as a welcome addition to the town's image. Concerns have been expressed about potential night noise and loud music in the centre of the town. These concerns are being addressed.

Puerto Seco was originally developed by Kaiser Bauxite from a small, reserved holding in the 1950s and it was opened to the public when that company purchased Discovery Bay Estates and the luxurious Columbus Inn hotel. The hotel was converted in to the company's administrative offices, while then General Manager Don Tretzel brought the beach up to world standards. Old-timers remember fondly that the beach edge was blasted at 5:00 am each morning to remove sea weed, and raked and manicured by 7:00 am by a team of workers and lifeguards who maintained cleanliness and landscaping throughout the day.

Tretzel also built the Captain Kidd's Quarterdeck, a bar and restaurant with waiters in bow ties and bartenders delivering classic service. Water skiing, a diving platform, fruit trees, children's playground, and tennis courts made it a popular national attraction for villagers, holiday campers, bus trips, and truck riders from all over the island as they flocked the beach and village shops each holiday.

Guardsman will be building on a legacy left by Kaiser, but is expected to move the new beach to another level with greater emphasis on tourism. This should be of general benefit to the area and, in particular, to local vendors seeking to cash in on new opportunities offered.

Kaiser Bauxite's legacy footprint has also been to serve as spearhead for the other attraction, Show Kart, which has its genesis in the famous National Push Cart Derby. The derby took Jamaica by storm in the 1970s to 90s. The new mini-derby is staged at the Port Rhoades Sports Club (former Kaiser Sports Club), where the original Derby started. It caters for tourists and nationals as a family show of cart races, alongside a serving of cultural and traditional songs, music and dance.

This one is community driven with second-generation push cart riders, some of whom appeared in the film Cool Runnings, sections of which were filmed at the same location. It also includes flashbacks to the movie's featured Jamaican bobsled team's dramatic entry into the Winter Olympics in 1988.

Show Kart highlights the legend of the push cart derby in a narrative that harks back to the early days of Kaiser when youngsters surreptitiously raced carts on the plant access road after dark until spotted by General Manager Ed Coyne and Public Relations supervisor, Con Pink, who turned the fun activities into a derby styled off the US Soap Box Derby.

Discovery Bay has for long been on the cutting edge of tourism. Nearby are the Green Grotto caves, to the east, and Columbus Park, on the west. Columbus Park is also a Kaiser Bauxite spawned attraction, which admittedly has seen better days as an outdoor museum of Jamaican historical artifacts, and is now primarily an eating and entertainment spot with a beautiful view of the bay. Also to the east is the now famous Ultimate Jerk Centre — rated for its Jamaican jerk and entertainment and, in my humble opinion, the cleanest restrooms in the Caribbean.

The town, first port of call for Columbus in 1494, is now setting up itself to be a part of the tourism map, replete with history and stories to tell. The building of the Queen's Highway, and its opening by Queen Elizabeth II on November 25, 1953, is a tale well told by the older generation who witnessed this grand event as schoolchildren waving the Union Jack and heralding Her Majesty with Rule Britannia and Long Live the Queen!

Discovery Bay was originally known as Dry Harbour (Puerto Seco); so named it is said when Columbus found no water there to tend to his ships, and instead found a good river (Rio Bueno) with fresh water further along the coast. The claim as Columbus's first landfall is often disputed, and a gallant attempt was made in the 1940s to secure that honour when some links of an iron chain found embedded in a cotton tree were claimed to be contemporary with the discoverer.

Discovery Bay is also the site of the marine laboratory operated by The University of the West Indies (UWI). This could be said to be another Kaiser legacy project as the lands were presented by the company to Princess Alice, then chancellor of The UWI, and aunt of The Queen, on March 29, 1968.

So here comes Discovery Bay into 2018. To the west of the bay is the port from which Noranda Bauxite exports bauxite ore. Noranda is reporting on a challenging 2017, but one which finds them on a more solid footing than in 2016 when the company lost 45 per cent of its production with the loss of a major customer. According to General Manager Delroy Dell, the recovery is due largely to “the marketing strategies that have enabled us to expand our business into historic new markets around the world, in particular to the Far East”.

A new and significant development in shipping is unfolding with the first-ever trans-shipment cape sailing of Jamaican bauxite which took place this year. The ground-breaking 135,000 dry metric tonnes cape shipment to India began in August, when three ships carrying about 45,000 tonnes each from Discovery Bay loaded their cargo into the larger vessel at an offshore point near to Trinidad. Arrangements are being made for developing a Jamaican proximity cape loading point in order to effect reduced freight rates across the ocean.

Noranda is a powerful ally in the Government's drive for economic prosperity. But the legacy of its predecessor company Kaiser Bauxite and Noranda is not confined to bauxite returns alone. That legacy is to be seen in the development and ideas being translated into other income and employment-generating projects generated by the presence of the industry in Discovery Bay and other related communities. The Puerto Seco renovation and the ShowKart introduction are manifestations of those ideas.

Lance Neita is a public relations consultant and writer. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@ hotmail.com.

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