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Drawing Lines in the Sand?

Editorial: Urgent Steps Must Be Taken to Help Bali Reclaim its Beaches as its Own.

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Last week, regional authorities in Gianyar shut down a luxury villa project under construction on Cucukan Beach, near Blahbatuh, when the project was found to have been partially built on 300 square meters of government land and to have violated mandatory "set back" limits forbidding construction too close to local shorelines. Developers of that project have been told to demolish those parts of the construction that do not meet local building requirements.

As part of a continuing crackdown on illegal building in Bali, Denpasar authorities similarly "froze" three villa and apartment projects in the Canggu area of North Kuta that reportedly did not possess the required building permits. Concurrently, authorities are taking action against a villa in Kuta that was built uder a permits for a private residence but is now being leased out as a commercial villa enterprise.

While it is encouraging to see local officials are finally taking some steps to slow the helter skelter free-for-all of villa construction that is fundamentally changing the character of the Island, there are indications that a more radical re-examination of building regulation on Bali's beaches may be long overdue.

With Bali repeatedly winning awards as one of the world's favorite holiday island destinations, a more thoughtful approach on how best to protect and preserve Bali's precious beach front and tidal mangroves are needed in order to maintain the island's reputation and make its tourism product sustainable for the long term.

No One Owns the Shoreline

Preserving beaches and ensuring full access for every Island resident is a principle already protected by local laws in Bali. In fact, the concept that "No One Owns the Shoreline" is a generally accepted rule-of-thumb for local governments and property ownership stretching from Waikiki to Wisconsin.

However, the "free enjoyment" of universal beach access takes on an even added importance in Bali where beach areas play an essential areas in Bali-Hindu relgious rites of passage (yadnya).

Balinese hotels, villa owners and resorts that persist to arrogantly build barriers and fences that bisect the shore line; build structures that usurp beach areas by ignoring established "set back" rules; and encourage their staff to "chase off bothersome locals" who linger in front of their properties are guilty of either ignorance and a disregard for the basic fundamentals that govern Bali's culture.

We pray that local authotiries will continue with their current crackdown on zoning violations in Bali, particularly along the Island's beaches. Those building found to be violating the "set back" requirements should be quickly bulldozed and their foundations replaced with beach sand – all at the owner's expense. While such steps may appear as draconian, a strict and unbiased enforcement of the rules is the only way to reclaim Bali's beaches and serve warning to future developers who have grown overly-confident that all rules can somehow be waived in Indonesia.

We also hope that Bali's legislators will consider toughening the rules on beachside development to ensure these precious areas are preserved for future generations. Tougher pollution controls preventing contamination of Bali's beaches and streams, and mandatory public right-of-ways connecting public roadways to the beaches at regular intervals along the enture island's shoreline are representative of what's happening on islands elsewhere possessing leaders familiar with good governance and thoughtful environmental stewardship.

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