No room for eco objectors

| 03/10/2008

(CNS): The recent planning meeting to hear the application of Lorenzo Berry as White Rock Investments (WRI) to quarry the Lower Valley Beach Bay forest revealed that there is no room for private citizens to object to planning applications that threaten the local environmental resources, including critically endangered species of endemic and native flora and fauna.

The only people, according to the law, allowed to object in person at planning meetings are those who live or own property within a 1500-foot radius of the planned development. However, according to the Department of the Environment (DoE), it has submitted a number of recommendations to the Central Planning Authority for consideration on various occasions where environmental issues have arisen as a result of a proposed development.

“We have provided advice to the CPA on a number of occasions and they have acted on that advice in the past,” said the Director of DoE, Gina Ebanks-Petrie. Without the National Conservation Law on the statute books, however, she did confirm that there is no legal requirement by the CPA to consider points raised by the DoE.

The problem of objections with regard to environmental and ecological issues was caused after the Planning Law was changed in the late 1990s, at the behest of a major developer who was facing island-wide objections over the removal of mangroves. Since the change in the law to limit objectors, only those within the stipulated objection zone can attend meetings. Concerned citizens and people who want to see their local natural resources protected have no real form of redress other than to rise up and make their feelings known in public forums, as was the case with the recent campaign to save the Ironwood Forest in George Town.

While the country waits for the Minister with responsibility for the Environment, Charles Clifford, to table the proposed National Conservation Bill, which will force environmental considerations into law, the fate of endangered species, such as the White-shouldered Bat and other flora and fauna at risk of planned development, is in the hands of the CPA. The law has been waiting in the wings for two years, and the minister has said on numerous occasions that the bill was due to be tabled in each parliamentary session that has come and gone. In his last comment regarding the bill, he said it would be brought tot he Legislative Assembly for vote in October.

The forest which Berry plans to level from its current height of around 30 feet to about ten is believed to be home not only to the White-shouldered Bat, which is almost extinct in Cayman, but also the banana orchid and the ironwood, broadleaf and silver thatch trees. There are at least 50 and possibly more red-listed species in a slice of local forest environment which is fast disappearing.

Yesterday Jean Ebanks, one of the residents in Mahogany Estates, who noted that many local residents purchased their properties because of the proximity to the forest and the natural landscape it provides, said she was hopeful that despite there being no actual environmental law yet, the CPA was wise enough to acknowledge the importance of DoE advice.

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Comments (7)

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  1. Mat DaCosta-Cottam says:

     

    In response to the concerns of "segbert", may I start by saying that, while I share some of your frustrations, reading between the lines of your comment, I am not sure that you are aware of exactly how the planning process currently operates with respect to environmental assessment.
     
    There is currently no legal requirement that the Department of Environment be consulted in any planning application irrespective of scale, or potential to impact the environment.None-the-less, the DoE does comment on the environmental impact of developments in the Islandswhen applications are submitted to us for review by the Planning Department.
     
    DoE comments are submitted to the Department of Planning and Central Planning Authority for consideration, however, these comments simply constitute recommendations. Because there is no legal requirement for DoE to comment, or that DoE’s comments are taken into consideration, there is no legal requirement that anyone take any notice of what the DoE has to say. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they do not. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, both from an environmental perspective, and from the perspective law-abiding developers, who seek a structured a reliable format for assessment of their proposal.
     
    For this reason, the DoE has been working for over six years now, to update the environmental legislation, so that large scale developments with the potential to seriously impact the natural environment of the Cayman Islands incorporate a legal requirement for Environmental Impact Assessment. EIA takes into account the Social and the Environment impacts of projects, in addition to their Economicimpact. The law which would require this is called the (draft) National Conservation Law.
     
    We all benefit from a healthy environment, a good quality of life and a sound economy, and as such, it makes sense that these factors be carefully weighed against each other, rather than any single one being unrealistically prioritized above all else because, they are after all, all connected. It is a convenience, but an oversimplification to point the finger solely at developers, when,as a general rule, developers are subject to market forces, and their supply is generally in response to a demand – a demand which we members of the public generally contribute to. As such, successful planning involves all sectors.
     
    Given the situation with respect to the DoE commenting on the environmental impact of projects, it should come as little surprise that the DoE did indeed comment extensively on the other developments mentioned in the area. DoE comments on the environmental value of both areas of forest were very similar because both areas of forest are very similar. These comments are a public document, and you are welcome to read them for yourself, if you would like to do so.
     
    So, given the similarly between the two areas of forest, and the comments of the DoE, why the difference in response?
     
    The answer is not environmental – it is simply a matter of public interest.
     
    Public interest generates media interest.
     
    In the case of the recent Mahogany Estates issue, the Department of Environment was contacted by the media with a request to comment on the environmental value of the forest, following environmental concerns being raised by local residents hence the TV crews.
     
    So, the silence” to which you refer, is a not a silence from the DoE, but a silence from members of the public.
     
    Public apathy does not generate media interest, nor interest from legislators.
     
    In the absence of legislation, public opinion will remain the most significant defining factor in determining issues of environmental, social and economic significance.
     
    Until the public speak out in support of the provision of effective legislation, such as the National Conservation Law, both developers and the public alike will have to make do with consistent but toothless DoE recommendations, powerful but occasional public outcry and the uneven consequences of both.
     
  2. larry says:

    Some folks have their own agenda, I agree with the Green Hornet and Segbert we all know that it is a much bigger picture and problem than some people would like us to focus on. Some are rather selfish about protecting their own self interest and to hell with the rest.We all know and have seen certain interest in Cayman who go around developing, drilling, jackhammering, clearing down and quarrying massive holes and areas unabated and unhindered by any regulatory bodies. Almost with impunity regardless to consequences or the environmental impact and some of it is even stolen or disputed property. For a person to sit back and to have such a narrowed mind view to say it is alright to clear down the trees and vegetation so long as it is on higher ground is really really sad. The fact is if we are going approach this problem it needs to go for all Developers and the quarrying crowd on this island. Some people seem to be selective environmentalist when it comes to Cayman’s environment. If we cannot make it right at least be fair. This position should be taken through out the three islands to protect or environment.

  3. segbert says:

    The double standards that exist on this island. i am not agreeing with what is being done in the Mahogany estates situation, however from what i understand is this land had been cleared off for some 10-15 years ago. The current fauna and flora sprung up as a result of it being burnt and clear sorry to burst your bubble Mr Cottam and TV crew. However on a much large scale is further down the Road the two massive subdivisions of Beach Bay Heights own and being sold by Crighton Properties which has by the way cleared away huge paths of very old forest virtually hundreds of trees and various plants no Tv crews and planning protest and DOE studies the silence is deafening. I guess the berry family does have the monies or influence. Not much caymanians can afford the lots either.

    • Anonymous says:

      Regardless of whether the land was cleared 10 – 15 years ago, there is currently a quarry on that property – a 17 ft crater to be exact. Illegal quarrying at that and the Berry’s want permission to further quarry the land.  It is now useless.  I am happy to know that CPA turned down their application. In comparison, the "Crighton Development" parcels of land are still on high ground  and this was not obtained by quarrying the land and damaging other properties in the area!

  4. Ron Moser says:

    I recall the occasion that when I built my shop on our commercial property in town, I received only one question from the CPA office as to how many trees are to be removed to accomodate this proposed structure, this was in 1996. I was very pleased to state that no trees of any kind or size was to be removed and we literally built the shop around the existing trees, with considerable ease I might add.

    We are now dealing with 44 acres of extremely important habitat to a very wide variety of endangered species of local flora and fauna. This being a residential area on top of that with no extreme need to be developed any time soon, I truly hope that the CPA maintains to heed the advice of the DoE and to only allow development of any kind, if and when the extreme need arises, regardless of where this may be now, or in the future.

  5. Green Hornet says:

    Why not name the major developer for whom the law was changed? It was Michael Ryan for the Ritz Carlton’s 300-plus acre development. Ever since that time environmental issues have been virtually ignored — despite promises (for almost 8 years) of a conservation law to protect our terrestrial natural resources. I don’t believe there is a politican in our LA that has the backbone to promote and help pass this law, despite the fact that we are in violation of every international treaty dealing with conservation that the UK has signed, and which we as an OT are also party to. As for the CPA, its board is stacked with developers, so we cannot expect environmental oversight from that direction.

  6. dazed and confused says:

    lets all forget, for just a minute, the residents of mahogany estates!!! forget the white shouldered bat. forget about the environmental impact on the banana orchid or the ironwood trees or the thatch trees or about any other natural flora and fauna or animals which may be affected by this project,, forget about the natural protection this area affords the houses in the area.  forget the people who have purchased land in this area with expectations of the forest remaining a gorgeous backdrop for that dream house they were going to have to go through all the hassles of planning approval to even get started….

    shift focus towards XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

    as a young caymanian it is disheartening to see that simply because you have a full back pocket and some friends in the right places that you can continually circumvent all legal processes and in the end actually benefit further from it! perhaps the entire area should be returned to the state it was before work started and then he be made to go through the proper channels like the rest of us working class nobodys!!!

    (fed up)

     

    CNS note: Dear Dazed and Confused – our sympathies with your comment are not matched with a legal fund – hence the block in  the middle of this comment.