BEIRUT: The controversy over the ownership of Ramlet El Bayda came to public attention once again this week when excavators destroyed a wooden staircase leading down to the beach, located on the northern entrance along with a kiosk and a number of shacks.
Government officials rushed to end speculations about the closure of the beach for purposes of building a luxury resort, with Beirut Governor Judge Ziad Shebib telling Annahar, "The Ramlet El Bayda public beach will not be closed and any form of restricting citizens from accessing the shores, be it for constructional purposes or by erecting fences to close off the area is strictly prohibited."
In April 2015, Beirut Judge of Urgent Matters Zalfa al-Hasan issued a decision to cordon off three major sections of the beach that constitute roughly 28,000 square meters of the area. A few months later, Hasan issued two decrees that ultimately reversed the decision to allow private real estate companies to block beach entrances.
In light of the recent excavations, Shebib called on the Public Works and Transport Ministry to draw up the borders of public maritime property in order to prevent having such problems in the future. "We have asked Public Works minister Ghazi Zeaiter, to draw up the public maritime borders, thus this matter is in his hands," the governor judge said.
Zeaiter responded Thursday by saying that the maritime borders are already provided according to the 1925 property law Article 2 Order 144 which entails that the sea's shore until the farthest area reached by waves during winter, as well as sand and rock shores belong to the public.
Order 144, the first law to regulate coastal properties was issued in 1925 by Maurice Sarrail, the then-French High Commissioner in charge of Syria and Lebanon for one year during the French mandate. The law says property owners are prevented from erecting buildings on beaches because of the loose, sandy landscape.
Activists point to the abovementioned maritime borders to argue that investors cannot build on these beaches. In 1983, the entire Ramlet El Bayda beach became public as a result of a decision by the Beirut municipal council under the government of Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan.
Zeaiter then labeled Thursday's excavation plans in Ramlet El Bayda as 'illegal' while calling on the Interior Ministry and the Beirut's Municipality in preserving the coast line as well as halting all actions currently underway on the beach.
"The recent excavations that took place on the Ramlet El Bayda beach are considered illegal since orders to conduct such actions failed to follow procedures in providing a written notice to the Directorate General of Land and Maritime Transport but was given a verbal notice, thus I call on the both the interior ministry and Beirut's municipality to keep the coastline accessible to the public," Zeaiter said Thursday during a news conference at the ministry.
He added that he will investigate the approval of such excavation plans and assured that he would seek a judicial probe to find out who ordered such plans. "I will look into the approval of the plans with the help of judiciary authorities to figure out the people responsible," Zeaiter said while asking Beirut's Municipality council to restore the beach as it once was in order to preserve the rights of both public and private owners.
Activists from Nahnoo, a social association for the promotion of more shared public spaces, are calling for the formation of a committee comprised of members of Beirut's municipality, along with the public works ministry and the governorate of Beirut to help recognize and protect public property.
"We are calling on the public works ministry to demarcate public from private land in a bid to put an end to this fiasco, as well as the formation a committee with members from the municipality, public works ministry and the governorate of Beirut to preserve public property in the capital from Ramlet El Bayda to Horsh Beirut," Nahnoo executive director Mohammad Ayyoub told Annahar.
However, Ayyoub stressed, "The only answer to stop any kind of projects on public property is by public pressure, the same way it put an end to the Dalieh Takeover."
A protest will be held to voice concern over the protection of Ramlet El Bayda on June 25.
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