Archive for October 23rd, 2012

Botanic Park under threat

| 23/10/2012 | 39 Comments

Bridge.jpg(CNS): The Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park in Frank Sound is the latest important natural resource on Grand Cayman to be threatened by development. Despite significant concerns raised by the Department of Environment and the National Trust among others, the Central Planning Authority has over the last six years given planning permission to Eagle Assets Investments Ltd to develop various lots surrounding the park in what is emerging as a proposed mixed use development. The DoE has warned that this will not only fundamentally alter the aspect of the park but it will threaten its entire future along with the extensive flora and fauna inside it, including the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme.

Following a freedom of information request by CNS to various government departments including planning, lands and survey and the DoE, a significant number of documents were released that reveal the concerns the government’s environment experts have had for some time and that the government, which is a 50% owner of the park along with the National Trust, has failed to object to the threatening development as it is entitled to do as an immediate neighbour.

According to the DoE’s technical review committee, which is persistently ignored by the CPA, the accumulative applications by the developer equate to the potential development of around 535 acres of land and that a Planned Area Development (PAD) application should have been submitted to planning along with a comprehensive environmental impact assessment. 

In a memo at the beginning of October relating to the latest application to the CPA by the developer, which is for a golf course backing onto the Botanic Park and still under consideration, the DoE said it was concerned about the cumulative impact of the development and a lack of consideration within the context of the other Eagle Asset development parcels.

The DoE pointed to the encirclement of the Botanic Park through the series of development applications, which have been strongly resisted by the department due to the significant adverse impact on the blue iguanas. Nevertheless, all of the applications, modifications and changes considered by the CPA to date have been granted, posing a significant threat to the future of the important conservation and tourist facility.

“The current application parcel is land occupied by individuals from the free-roaming population of blue iguanas which originates from the Park,” the DoE warned in its comments to the CPA on the latest application for a golf course. “Removal of this habitat would directly impact this population. The potential introduction of roadways and associated cars would make this area significantly less inhabitable for the iguanas.” 

The comments come at the same time as the recent news that the hard work of the director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, Fred Burton, had achieved a significant milestone. In the latest publication of the ICUN red list the blues were re-classified from 'critically endangered' to 'endangered' as a result of the increase in their numbers in the wild.

In addition, the DoE pointed out that the Botanic Park is part of an official important bird habitat, providing sanctuary to the Vitelline warbler, Caribbean Elaenia, Yucatan Vireo and Thickbilled vireo.  “The potential loss off surrounding vegetation and ingress of invasive species would severely compromise the Park’s IBA status,” the DoE warned.

The government environmental experts also noted that the design of the winding trails which extend through the Botanic Park combined with the undeveloped land beyond its boundaries contribute to its great feeling of size despite being on only 60 acres. But if the vegetation bordering the Park was removed, it would become highly susceptible to edge effects.

“The future of the Park will be compromised by development in such close proximity, particularly as vegetative buffers between development sites and the Park are already being eroded, “ the DoE stated. “The DoE recommends that this application should either be held in abeyance pending a comprehensive PAD application and EIA, or refused on the grounds of prematurity.”

In addition to the memo sent by the DoE to planning, the director also attempted to galvanize the Lands and Survey Department to also object on behalf of the park as a neighbour, but that did not happen.

In submissions made to the CPA in July by the DoE, which were ignored, the department pointed out that the effect of this development would be to turn the Botanic Park, which is currently surrounded by wilderness, into an “urban park”, fundamentally altering its characteristics. The experts warned that the development would damage the aesthetics and would be visible to those visiting the park as they walk within its boundaries.

In short, the experts said, development so close to the park would be highly undesirable and they recommended that government use money from the environmental protection fund to buy the land. Instead, however, the CPA granted the application.

While the DoE would be expected to have genuine concerns about the development, they were not alone. The Water Authority also raised concerns about the plans for lakes to be excavated on the site, which the developer has said would supply fill for the development. The authority, however, warned that the project is very close to the North Sidewater lens, which could be compromised by the planned lakes and other elements of the proposed development.

With the opening of the Clifton Hunter High School and the proposed medical tourism project by Dr Devi Shetty, there has been an expectation that the hitherto less developed eastern districts would be subject to great attention from developers. However, the decision to allow this project so close to the park, and in particular the part of the park associated with the blue iguana project, is likely to raise very real concerns among the increasing number of local environmental activists.

It should also raise questions in the community about the CPA’s continued failure to factor in conservation and environmental considerations when making decisions about planning applications.

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Nine people hurt in bus-car smash

| 23/10/2012 | 20 Comments

bus smash.jpg(CNS): The driver and eight passengers from a local bus are being treated in the George Town hospital following a two vehicle road crash in Bodden Town this afternoon. Police said that shortly after 3:10pm on Tuesday, 23 October, a Toyota Hiace bus and a BMW car collided at the junction of Shamrock Road and Northward Road in Bodden Town. Emergency services were called to the location and the injured were transported to the Cayman Islands Hospital. Despite the number of people hurt, police said it is not thought that any had sustained serious injuries but this has yet to be confirmed by medical staff.  The driver of the BMW was not injured and police enquiries into how the crash occurred are on-going.

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CAL revises flight schedule in face of tropical storm

| 23/10/2012 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Cayman Airways will be cancelling flights to Jamaica on Wednesday as a result of the  current projected path of Tropical Storm Sandy. Flights are scheduled as normal today but KX 620 from Grand Cayman to Kingston/Montego Bay KX 621 from Montego Bay/ Kingston to Grand Cayman will be cancelled tomorrow 24 October. On Thursday the airlines said that KX 600 from Grand Cayman to Kingston and KX 601 from Kingston to Grand Cayman will be changed to KX 620 from Grand Cayman to Kingston/Montego Bay and KX 621 from Kingston/Montego Bay to Grand Cayman.

Jet fights and Express flights to the Sister Islands for 25 October are currently on schedule but the ariline said it would continue to monitor the weather conditions.

Change fees/penalties are being waived for those passengers travelling on Cayman Airways to or from Jamaica between October 24, and October 26. Passengers are advised to contact their travel agent or Cayman Airways Ticket Office for alternate travel arrangements. The CAL City Ticket Office will be open Tuesday until 6pm and the Reservations Department is open from 7:00am to 9:00pm.

“Due to the uncertainty of the weather situation surrounding Tropical Storm Sandy, for the latest and most accurate flight information passengers are advised to check the Cayman Airways website,” a spokesperson for the airline stated.

See www.caymanairways.com or call Cayman Airways Reservations Department on 345-949-2311 (within the Caribbean) or 1-800-4-Cayman (1-800-422-9626) within the United States for more information.

 

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West Bay food drive will help those in need

| 23/10/2012 | 0 Comments

(CNS): A number of families in West Bay will benefit over the coming weeks from a hurricane season food drive, which is a project devised and co-ordinated by West Bay Neighbourhood Officer PC Sharon Baillie and Wesleyan Christian Academy Principal Becky Profitt as part of the on-going RCIPS initiative, Junior Police Academy. Students collected several bags of non-perishable food over the last four months, which they then presented to the Department of Children and Family Services to coordinate its distribution.

PC Baillie, who visits the school almost every day, said she was extremely proud of the efforts made by the students.

"They’ve done a great job,” the local beat officer said. “This was all about teaching the youngsters about good citizenship and how to be positive role models in the community. It’s clear that they’ve taken those sentiments to heart. I’m sure that many people in the West Bay area will be delighted by the donations of food. The distribution is being coordinated by staff of the Department of Children and Family Services, who partnered with us on this important project.”

The department's Cassandra Parchment said the community spirit of the students would enable the department to help more people who are in need in West Bay.

“It isso important for children to recognise others who are in need and see that they too can lend a hand. In doing this they become more aware and gain exposure to what is going on in our own communities and around the world,” she said.

Following the success of the project the principal said the school would be continuing this type of project in the future.

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Cayman flora revisited by Proctor

| 23/10/2012 | 2 Comments

flora (202x300).jpg(CNS): More than eight years in the making and with contributions from a wide range of local professional and amateur botanical enthusiasts, the second edition of Dr George Proctor’s Flora of the Cayman Islands has gone on sale locally. At a special event at the National Gallery to launch the respected and significant book, which is the only publication cataloguing more than 400 native and 29 indigenous species as well as imported and invasive species in Cayman, Director of the Department of Environment said the importance of the book and Proctor’s work could never be over emphasised. Gina Ebanks-Petrie said the country remained indebted to him as the first person to comprehensively identify what makes up the Caymanian ’bush’.

Thanking a long list of people and organisations that contributed and helped to ensure the publication of the updated book by Kew Publishing, Gina Ebanks-Petrie said it was her hope that the necessary steps would be taken soon to protect Cayman’s natural habitat that is recorded in the book.

In the introduction, which has been adapted and updated by the director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, Fred Burton, and Kew Garden’s Colin Clubbe, the vulnerability of Cayman’s flora is illustrated by the point that over half of Cayman’s endemic species are critically endangered and almost half of its native species are under threat of extinction.

Proctor’s book remains an incredibly important piece of work as so few botanical investigations have been undertaken in Cayman by relatively few people. Even now with the increase in the literature and research under taken by Burton, Anne Stafford, Mat Cottam and others, it is estimated that there are still species growing on the three islands that have not yet been identified and catalogued. The fear of most of those who have a connection to the local natural habitat, however, is that these unidentified species could be buried under concrete or tarmac before they are ever catalogued and understood.   

The new edition of Proctor’s book is a full colour version and a total revision of his first edition. It describes the 415 native taxa, 29 of them uniquely Caymanian, that can be found on the 260 or so square kilometres that make up the three Cayman Islands. 

Although the new edition has retained a classic taxonomic approach to describing the islands’ flora, 250 line illustrations and over 400 spectacular colour photographs illustrate the majority of species most likely to be encountered. Satisfying the needs of the professional botanist, it also provides the non-expert and eco-traveller with an accessible, beautifully presented and informative field guide.

Dr Proctor, now 91 years old, was the former head of the Natural History Division of the institute of Jamaica and he published his first edition in 1986. He began work on this edition some eight years ago but his work was interrupted when he was sent to jail in Jamaica after being convicted of conspiring with his driver to attempt to kill his wife. Proctor always denied the charges but he was given a four year jail sentence following the 2010 trial.

Despite his ill health, failing eyesight and unexpected incarceration, the botanist pressed on and completed the second edition of the book while serving his sentence. It is understood that Proctor has now been released from prison.

The book is now on sale at CI$30. It is already available at the DoE but will soon reach the shelves of local book stores and the National Trust.

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Sandy forecast to strengthen as it approaches Jamaica

| 23/10/2012 | 8 Comments

sandy 11am.PNG(CNS): Updated Tuesday 1pm – Tropical Storm Sandy was located some 275 miles SSW of Jamaica at noon today heading NNE at 5mph. According to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Sandy was packing winds of over 50 mph and further strengthening is expected before the strom reaches Jamaica sometime on Wednesday evening. The system is still unlikely to pose a threat locally as it is forecast to move directly across Jamaica and Cuba in the coming days, passing well to the east of the Cayman Islands. Forecasters at the NHC said Sandy was expected to travel north-northeastward today with an increase in forward speed and would be a hurricane by the time it reaches Jamaica where warnings are in effect.

Got to NHC for more details

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Government crawls towards 21st century

| 23/10/2012 | 15 Comments

crop380w_istock_000004468882xsmall-filling-out-form-online.jpg(CNS): Although government is still a long way from fully utilising modern e-technology to deliver its services more effectively and more cheaply, it is making some baby steps. One of those is the launch of an on-line service at the Department of Vehicle and Driver’s Licensing (DVDL). People who register for government’s new e-services identification (ESID) number will be able to renew their vehicle and drivers’ licences online. People can collect their own personal ESIDs from the department, which will enable them to renew and pay for both licences on the DVDL’s website and have the documents sent to them by post or collect them from the DVDL offices.

Once drivers have an ESID then the details of their vehicle inspections can be electronically submitted to the DVDL and driver can then complete the on-line process and the documents can be posted or collected. Driver’s licences can also be renewed on line but the office has not quite reached the technical capability to accept submitted photographs, so drivers must still pick up their new licences from the DVDL where their picture will be taken.

For more information about online vehicle and driver’s licence renewals, interested persons should visit www.dvdl.gov.ky, www.eservices.gov.ky or tel. 945-8344

 

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TCI government recovers $8M in public cash

| 23/10/2012 | 6 Comments

(CNS):  $8.13 million has been paid into the TCI government coffers following the settlement of claims arising out of the underpayment of Stamp Duty on the 2006 sale of crown land. The government received the windfall following the forced sale of Emerald Cay by its owners. Officials from the TCI said that the payment brings to a conclusion “one of the most significant cases of the TCI government's civil recovery programme and represents a substantial recovery”. TCI’s Attorney General Huw Shepheard said the government was delighted that judgment handed down earlier this year had been satisfied.

“Whilst obtaining judgments such as this is highly important and demonstrates the Government's determination to deal with Stamp Duty evasion, the receipt of such a large sum represents another significant recovery to the benefit of the Islands. It also represents another very good result for the civil recovery team and their on-going efforts,” he added.

In June 2011 the civil recovery team obtained a judgment against Emerald Cay Limited and Worldwide Commercial Properties Limited, subsequently quantified at just under $9.3m by the Court earlier this year, with interest and costs, following the discovery of substantially underpaid stamp duty on the 2006 sale of Emerald Cay. Since that date the TCIG sought to enforce that judgment by forcing a sale of Emerald Cay. 

The property was sold Monday by Emerald Cay Limited, and government got the cash payment and a payment of stamp duty on the sale in satisfaction of the judgment and the money will be used to paydown TCIG debt, government officials said in a release.
The civil recovery team, led by London law firm Edwards Wildman, was engaged in December 2009 following the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry Report by Sir Robin Auld. 

To date, the team has recovered over $15.5m in cash and nearly 2,500 acres of land for the government in over 40 separate claims with more significant recoveries expected.  The Emerald Cay payment follows the earlier summer settlement of the Salt Cay litigation with the return of a large part of that Island to the Government's hands and a payment of $7m in cash.

 

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Pressing ignore

| 23/10/2012 | 33 Comments

When the environment minister failed to show up at the book launch of the much anticipated second edition of Dr George Proctor’s Flora of the Cayman Islands on Tuesday evening it came as little surprise to those who did attend. Since taking up that portfolio in his ministry, Mark Scotland has made it perfectly clear he has no interest in environmental issues.

He has admitted publicly that the environment would not have been his “first choice” of the responsibilities that make up his health ministry and he has proceeded to demonstrate that fact by essentially ignoring most things that are related to nature, not least the National Conservation Law. Given that his 'past’ business interests are about concrete and tarmac, it is hardly surprising.

Having said that, ignoring this part of his portfolio would not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that he is an integral part of a government that seems intent on destroying it.

With a mounting list of environmental issues over the last three years, Scotland has done nothing at all to protect the natural resources of the Cayman Islands, even though it is his responsibility to do so. While we cannot yet expect any politician in Cayman to be ready to take the really radical steps that are now required to try and save Cayman from the bulldozer, the fact that he is contributing to its demise while in office should be of real concern to the people.

His failure to turn up to something as uncontroversial as the book launch when the work is so important to our understanding of the environment we are destroying speaks volumes and should serve, if nothing else, as a lesson to us all about how harmful a cross in a box once every four years can be when it’s put in the wrong place.

The problem for the environment locally is that not one politician in Cayman has proved to have the necessary fortitude and understanding of the need to protect the environment properly. The blind pursuit of the development dollar has relegated the air that we breathe, the water we drink, swim, dive and snorkel in, as well as the ground we grow things in, walk and live on to something that, with a little assistance from concrete and tarmac, can generate money, and despite their oft cited Christian principles, money is something our politicians really do love.

They would all do well to remember the over used and somewhat misused quote attributed to native American Indians and popularized by Greenpeace, which points out that once we’ve destroyed nature it is only then that we realize we can’t eat cash.
Lots of us know this already but the struggle is to persuade the others that don’t.

When we go to the polls next May the issue of the environment will be relegated by most politicians to the bottom of their agenda. Public finances, taxes, business, how to make more money, and fighting crime and corruption will all take centre stage over the islands' natural resources. There will be some lip service and waffley speeches about “sustainable development”, which is used consistently by many without them having the slightest clue about what it means. But until the environment becomes a genuine political element in the local landscape, the politicians will continue to ignore it.

While we can at least hope for a new environment minister next year who hopefully will not be so enthusiastic about contributing to its demise, we are unlikely to see a real eco-enthusiast in the post until the people demand it. We, the voting public, cannot blame the politicians for ignoring a subject that is also ignored by the people.

One only has to look at the number of comments on environmental articles on CNS compared to those about crime or political skulduggery and one willsee where the balance of concern lies.

While CNS continues to give a platform to environmental concerns and certainly attracts a solid readership of those who do care, it is apparent that even here there are too many people that don’t. The environmental will only be given the attention it deserves when the voters make it clear that they will only vote for those who demonstrate a genuine commitment to it.

Today is the day to start demanding it because, as we all know, tomorrow will simply be too late.

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BT landfill moving forward

| 23/10/2012 | 60 Comments

BTLandfill_0.JPG(CNS): Government sources have confirmed that preparatory work is being undertaken at the proposed landfill site in Bodden Town ahead of an Environmental Impact Assessment.  Although there are no terms of reference for the EIA in the public domain, it is understood that exploratory work is now underway to establish what are expected to be restricted terms. The proposed landfill is part of government’s deal with the Dart Group to swap land, cap the existing George Town dump and create a new one in Bodden Town. Residents in the area and members of the Coalition to Keep BT Dump Free have raised concerns that the landfill is about to be started despite considerable local opposition, no public consultation and no planning permission.

Documents released under the FOI law some time ago by the Department of the Environment show  that government is limiting the EIA to the proposed site belonging to Dart group and will not be allowing the terms of reference to consider any other alternatives for the future of waste management.

It is still not clear exactly what government plans to do about the future of waste management in Grand Cayman, but part of the ForCayman Investment Alliance mega deal between Dart and Government involves the developer being given the crown land adjacent to Camana Bay where the current landfill sits. In exchange Dart has agreed to cap and remediate the old dump (a.k.a. Mount Trashmore) and construct a lined landfill in Bodden Town, then hand that along with land around it to government to allow it to create a new waste management centre.

With the appearance of heavy equipment, trucks and the sound of drilling at the site, residents as well as the activists opposing the proposals were concerned that Dart and government were trying to force a dump on the BT district behind the backs of residents. 

Alain Beiner, a Coalition leader, and owner of a small, award-winning hotel in Bodden Town, said,  “As far as we know, there has been no Environmental Impact Assessment, and no permission from planning to establish a dump in Bodden Town.“ In addition he noted that the area has not been re-zoned.

Charles Clifford, the former environment minister and MLA for the district in the previous PPM government, said that there has still been no consultation with the people in Bodden town and their agreement has never been solicited. Clifford pointed out that there were environmental concerns which were raised by the Central Tenders Committee (CTC) when it had unequivocally rejected the Dart proposal, expressing "great concern" about the impact of a dump in an environmentally sensitive area.” 

The coalition members have pointed out that government rejected the CTC's first choice to solve the problem of Mount Trashmore with a waste-to-energy facility at the present site, with no need to contaminate a pristine residential area. Since then, however, government has embraced the CTC's very last choice.

The members have said that there are very real dangers of capping the GT landfill, the potential for staggering damage and financial claims, and the dangers inherent in establishing a new dump. Clifford asked if Dart would accept legal liability and responsibility for the work it would do at both the George Town dump and at the proposed dump in Bodden Town.

Relocating the dump would transform a pristine residential and agricultural area into heavy industrial use, and the Coalition said it was afraid that the project would be pushed through regardless of their many concerns.

“What exactly does Dart and Government intend to do about the increased truck traffic to be expected, given that around 92% of the island’s waste is generated in the George Town-SMB-West Bay area, far from the proposed site? It’s been months since Minister Mark Scotland promised to report any new developments to the public, but we fear that he has lied to us again,” Beiner added.

The coalition said it continues to press government for answers but so far it has not answered a single question. CNS also submitted a number of questions to the various government departments involved and to Dart itself but has heard nothing on the record from any of a long list of people contacted regarding the government’s plans for the site.

Last December, Mark Scotland, who is one of the government MLAs for the district as well as the environment minister, asked the Coalition to meet with him, but he turned down suggested dates and said he would meet with them sometime in January. However, the Coalition says that 10 months later they have still not heard from him and persistent requests for him to supply them with information have been ignored.

The Coalition said the people needed to know exactly what is going on and whether Dart had permission for the current drilling. Vowing to continue their campaign, the Bodden Town group said it firmly believes – as did the present government when it initially accepted the CTC’s recommendation – that the problem can and should be resolved where it is and Mount Trashmore can be eliminated and the GT dump properly managed.  Moving of the landfill to their or any other district is not in the wider public interest and is being done in the interests of just one developer, the coalition group asserts.

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