Residents appeal for help in quarry dispute

| 20/08/2008

(CNS): After almost a decade of disruption and endless attempts to protect their homes and their local environment, the residents of Mahogany Estates have made an appeal to the people of Cayman to help them stop a proposed quarry development from destroying 44 acres of bluff and forest in the Beach Bay area, which they say has already turned their lives upside down.

The residents of Mahogany Estates called on the media on Tuesday 19 August to help them gain support. With Reverend Nicholas Sykes as their spokesperson, residents explained that since 1997 local businessman Lorenzo Berry of White Rock Investment (WRI) has been illegally extracting fill from a 44-acre site behind their homes. Berry was given planning permission in 1997 to level sections of the site for roads on what would eventually be a residential development. However, residents say that over the years he has excavated the site, removed and sold fill all contrary to Planning Permission.

“Between 1997 and 2000 there was excavation work that gave the Central Planning Authority concerns because it was outside the road corridors,” Rev Sykes explained. “In February 2000 extension of permission for the wholesale clearance and excavation of land on the site was refused. However, after a few years the owners restarted work using explosives.”

Sykes went on to explain that, excavation, blasting without notice, the movement of heavy equipment and commercial operations have persisted on the site. Trucks regularly move through the narrow lanes of Mahogany Estates from as early as 4:30 in the morning to carry fill from the illegal quarry, in what was intended to be a quiet countryside residential development. The PlanningDepartment has asked the owner to cease excavating on numerous occasions, but while their requests were heeded for short periods of time, eventually the work would start up again. Berry has cleared a significant area in the centre of his land down to around 17 feet from the original bluff height of about 30 feet, and has now requested planning permission to clear the entire 44-acre site down to five feet, residents reported.

Jean Ebanks, one of the residents spearheading the campaign, said that regardless of the objections of the people living in Mahogany Estates the clearance of this land was of concern to the community at large. “This area has been a buffer for all residents in the Beach Bay area. It was one of the few districts which was not flooded during Hurricane Ivan (September 2004) because of the bluff and the natural forest,” she said. Ebanks added that the area is a natural habitat for Cayman Parrots, West Indian Woodpeckers and many other birds, as well as home to Silver Thatch Palms, Banana Orchids, Ironwood Trees, rare and indigenous bromeliads and other native flora and fauna.

Moreover, the residents said that a number of people who purchased land from Berry now have no access to their plots because of the excavation and the remaining roads have been blocked with gates declaring the site an excavation spot, even though no permission has been given yet to carry out a commercial quarrying operation.

During their attempts to raise attention to the situation, the residents said they had checked the destination of the illegally removed fill and that some was going to a large private development site but also, to the residents’ distress and alarm, to the National Roads Authority and into the new east-west arterial bypass.

“We contacted the NRA to tell them they were using illegally extracted fill, but we have never had any significant response on this,” said Skyes, who explained that over the past decade the residents have contacted numerous agencies, from the Complaints Commissioner and the Governor to Central Planning and Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts over the excavation, but are not reassured that their case is being properly considered. (CNS continues to make attempts to contact the NRA for response).

He said the decision by the CPA to hold a meeting to consider Berry’s most recent application illustrates that the residents are being ignored .The residents also say that they do not have legal counsel to assist them and they are concerned that their spokesperson Rev Sykes has a prior commitment that cannot be moved on the day that the CPA plans to hear WRI’s application. After pleading their case for a postponement, the Planning Department had suggested the meeting could be moved. However, WRI have apparently objected and a postponement decision has not been finalised.

When CNS attempted to contact Berry we were told he did not wish to comment on the situation. In the past, however, he has denied the accusations and insisted he has all of the proper government permits, although evidence from Planning suggests otherwise. He also says the necessary precautions for protecting surrounding property and residents, including employing licensed explosives experts and placing seismographs to monitor blasting, have been taken.

Since the dispute began, residents say Berry and his associates have made threats to them, their supporters and other journalists that have been invited to meetings. Some residents insisted on anonymity during yesterday’s meeting, as they are fearful of the owner. Sykes said the police have been contacted when threats have been made, although it took the intervention of local MLA Osbourne Bodden to get the police to react.

However, when CNS contacted the RCIPS we were told that it takes any threats seriously and that threatening violence or intimidating behaviour is a crime in itself, even if the threat is not executed. The police liaison office said that they would also look into the accusations surrounding the threats made concerning Mahogany Estates.
 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Local News

Comments (6)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Wosila Rochester says:

    Just want to say thanks for the much needed and very overdue publicity re the Mahogany Estates situation.

    Also want to emphasise that it doesn’t stop there. Angel Ridge residents (the adjacent sub-division) and other Beach Bay area residents are also being adversely affected and threatened by this man’s inconsiderate  arrogance, regarding his quarrying activity and plans. Blasting has already had major and damaging impact.

    One man surely cannot be allowed to hold entire communities to ransom–and to devastate the wider environment in the process!  So it’s his land?? Then why didn’t he survey the pros and cons of developing residential sub-divisions in the first place. He made his original decisions, presumbly before discovering thepotential value of fill! Now the law must ensure that he abides by those decisions. Selling house lots and then denying access to the purchaser? Unbelieveable you say? Check it out…

    And then he and his relatives try to intimidate residents with threats and/or he tries to browbeat them into signing supportive affidavits for his company’s so-called and ambiguously-worded "development plans."

    The ironwood forest? Try 44 acres of Grand Cayman’s Beach Bay bluff land for size 

  2. john says:

    When Crighton properties clear down half of the Cayman Kai area of pristine Mangroves their were no complaints when they went in to Beach Bay heights and clear out two massive sub divisions for homes leaving the Coup De Grace to land owner to complete the task to build no complaints from anyone. This area had some of the last remaing hardwood trees on this island. Where were these people aaaah the same old Once you have money around this town the silence is deafening. i guess Mr Berry does have that kind of money?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for an excellent article.

    It might be pointed out that the Director of Planning reported to the Complaints Commissioner that :

    In May 2006 the Planning Department made a site investigation which revealed there had been a breach of planning conditions:  and in June a warning letter was sent to the land owner requiring him to cease the illegal operations.

    In July the land owner conceded to the CPA that he had overstepped his approval and would do what was necessary to address the matter.

    The owner had not taken steps to comply with the conditions of approval by August, and in November 2006 an Enforcement Notice and Stop Notice were served on the registered owner.

    Either this Report to the Complaints Commissioner by the Director of Planning is erroneous – I hardly think so – or Berry’s insistence that he has all the proper government permits is a ludicrous falsehood.

    No Brownie points on offer for the correct answer on who is lying!

  4. Anonymous says:

     

    Why are some people "above the law" and others not? Why do we have rules, laws, and regulations in place if no one enforces them, and no one is penalized for breaking them? This is a joke, and I , as a Caymanian, am both shocked and embarrassed that we are dealing with something like this in the 21st century.

    I built in Beach Bay. I followed all the covenants, and so-called "laws".  My neighbor did not. She proceeded, without any Planning permission whatsoever, to have a man bulldoze every tree between my property and hers (three lots), and he would have bulldozed mine down too, had I not stopped him and threatened to call police as he had already encroached onto my property. The Planning Board acknowledged that she had no permission, nor had she surveyed the lots, but did nothing about it except to inform me that I could go and hire a lawyer and pursue it.

    It is common knowledge that XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Doesn’t anyone care about Cayman anymore? I hope our young, more worldly, more educated Caymanians will take over in Government before it’s too late. We need somebody with a SPINE! This isn’t the "Island that Time Forgot" anymore…the whole world is watching.

    Signed, A Dismayed Caymanian

    (CNS note: This comment has been edited slightly to avoid legal complications)

  5. Anonymous says:

    I dont know if the same company are responsible, but I used to live in Pease Bay right next to another quarrying operation.  I moved because I could never sleep due to the constant movement of heavy equipment 24/7; the heavy lorries (many sounding like the mufflers have been removed from their exhausts) thundering by, often at very dangerous speeds, on Bodden Town Road; blasting without notice that often shook the house as I tried to sleep, (even overnight through the Christmas and New Year period). 

    I found it hard to believe that the Caymans would accept such poor business practice and total disregard for both neighbours and the local environment, but realised that nothing would be done, so if I needed a good rest each night before going into town to work every day, then it was me who would have to move not the quarrying operation.

    Before coming to the Caymans I used to live in a heavy mining town all my life but legislation was in place to ensure that residents were not unduly disturbed by mining activities; equipment and vehicles, and certainly no blasting could take place close to a residential area without prior advance notice in writing to all residents in the immediate vicinity and notices displayed in public places and newspapers.  

     

  6. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t it a shame that the government of the Cayman Islands cannot step up and protect the people and wildlife of this country? XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX What’s the point of having police on the Brac if they are not fully committed to deal with all illegal activities, no matter what the cost. I am absolutely ashamed to be known as a citizen of a country whose government takes advantage of their people.

    Kudos to Osbourne Bodden!

    (CNS note: This comment has been edited since no one in this case has been charged with any crime. Also, the quarry in question is in Grand Cayman. The bluff referred to is not the Brac Bluff))