Botanic Park under threat

| 23/10/2012

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, “ theDoE 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 Side water 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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Comments (39)

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  1. Dagny says:

    Considering that the land in question is privately owned and that the material provided clearly states that the developers had agreed to meet with all of the relevant organisations to openly discuss their concerns and to come up with solutions, although they were not legally obligated to do so, I can't figure out what the story is here. 

    Is the point to scare people about the safety of the iguanas?  Check out any of the other golf courses around here – the hundreds of iguanas hanging out there all seem pretty happy to me.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Maybe Dart is part of Eagle Assets!!! I guess with al this "transparency" we will never know

  3. peter milburn says:

    Again nothing surprises me here anymore re develope develope and more of the same.The CPA board seems to have a onetrack mind no matter the circumstances and its a shame that they do not take into consideration  the various entities that give advice on environmental issues such as this.I am not against developement far from it but we have to keep in mind the balance that we need to have between the two.Why is the CPA so hard of hearing?Do they even for one minute consider anything else but what is being proposed by the developer?The Botanical Park is a very valuable part of our tourism product and as such MUST be preserved for that very reason.If the DOE and National Trust say that they are too close to the border then at least try to compromise and make the changes necessary to make both sides happy.The water Authority has also raised some objections and rightly so as the water shed in that area could well be affected if lakes are created.Some will say how do you know that will happen!!!?The question is how do we know it wont so do we take that chance and possibly lose the watershed for good?The answer to that is definately NO!!!Come on CPA lets try to look at both sides of the plans put to you  and try to see both sides of the coin.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ezzard knows his strong points -Health as in Health Environment, Youth and sports

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am utterly disgusted with the amount of greed and lack of foresight in this Country. The place is only 76 square miles, so by the time they finish selling and destroying the place it will be a concrete jungle!!!! I am not against development, but please think about what developers are proposing and what effect it will have on the country before you sign contacts. This place is being ran by blind mice!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    And when there's nothing left to sell, then what? Maybe start cutting spending..

  7. Anonymous says:

    LEAVE IT ALONE!!!!

    There is enough other land for development, hundreds of lots for sale, big and small. The park is just not Cayman heritage, it is World heritage and maybe an application should go in just for that. An application on its own would mean any development should stop.

     

    All this on top of the news about the Blue Iguana success?? It is nuts…

  8. Anonymous says:

    The Central Planning Authority will grant to any application before it, after giving the Applicant a lot of run-around and red tape. Why? Instead of functioning as a development regulator, it serves as a wholesale vendor of planning permits. Simply due to its hidden mandate of raising revenues – just like the Immigration Department and WP fees.

    As long as our public fiscal policy is fee-based, with no effort being placed on diversifying revenue sources, this will happen.  No environmental protecion policy will survive in this "environment" (pun intended), hence why there is none.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Talk about greedy short sighted developers…

  10. Anonymous says:

    One would take for granted that we would own all the surronding land around the park. Why dont we?

    • Anonymous says:

      Why don't we ask Dart to buy it for the park? he is after all a billionaire and a great philanthropist who have give much to the Caymanian society in parks and money.  I am sure that he would do this if we would just ask.  

      • Anonymous says:

        Ha!  I can see it now, "Dart's Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park".

        Cayman, get up off your butts and buy the property yourself.  Stop expecting Dart to do everything.  With every piece of lands he purchases and every doantion he makes he ownes us all a little more.  We apparently completely dependant on him to think for

        Cayman seems to have become addicted to the "expect Dart to do it" pill.

        Sad to see how lazy we have all become.  No self respecting Caymanian 50 years ago would have done this.  We would have pulled together and done it ourselves.

        To me it seem like the ambition we once had as a country, lives now only in the pages of history books.

      • Rorschach says:

        Yeah, right…so everybody can piss and moan about how much MORE Dart owns??

  11. Kadafe says:

    Please tell me that you are kidding right. I cant even belive this one.

    • Anonymous says:

      Greed has taking over the Cayman Islands and it will be our downfall sooner than later.  Government has removed the word "Moratorium" from its lexion when it comes to large scale development.  Again who are we developing for? George Town has become a ghost town and it seems the entire island is up for sale one only have to look at the many "For Sale" signs all over the island.  This country is going to hell in a hand basket.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Surely the environmentalists, like Ms. Connolly, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Stafford, Mr. Flowers, and Ms. Jurn, who were so vocal regarding the proposed destruction of the ironwood forest, will be organising mass demonstrations against this development.

     

    Where do I sign up?

    • Anonymous says:

      Don't wait for the environmentalists to become vocal and organise mass demostration to sign, this is a free country start your own petition.  Thank heavens for Ms. Connolly, Mrs. Walkers, Mrs. Stafford, M. Flowers and Ms. Jurn we can still take a walk in the "Ironwood Forest" the name given to the area by Ms. Consuelo Ebanks.

  13. Errytin Kholmon says:

    Just wait until Ezzard gets the position as Mminister of the Environment. We know how he feels about the National Trust and their protection policies!

    • Anonymous says:

      Don't speak for Ezzard has no intention of becoming Minister of the Environment.  He know his strong point clearly you do not!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Large develpments like this should be required to conform to the globally accepted aim of setting aside  20% of a country's land mass in legally protected conserved areas. This should be done in  consultation with the Department of the Environment. If there's nothing  worthwhile to preserve on the land, then  property of the same area or value should be given in mitigation elsewhere. This way, the 20% target will be baked into any future development of the island, and land prices will adjust accordingly. 

     

    I also believe that the law should be changed as follows: Any developer who clears land without the proper permission, should have planning permission refused on that land for 25 years. Spain had a severe problem with unprincipled developers setting  fire to protected forests. They would then apply for planning permission claiming the fire was started by a lightning strike or some such nonsense. The government responded by passing a  law that prevented anyone from developing such land for 25 years. 

     

    The unexplored, pristine forest that has been cleared at Breakers, which is designated 'Scenic Coastline', was done presumably to avoid any constraints that might have been  imposed on it by a  future conservation law. In my book this a criminal act of the most cynical kind, and I believe that the individual responsible is no friend of the Caymanian people. Even huge companies like Disney set aside 30% of their land holdings in Florida when they developed Disney World and Epcot. We should be far more caring of our tiny island. This greed-inspired abuse of our landscape must be stopped once and for all. 

  15. Anonymous says:

    Dear Mr Bush

    Please will you use our 'Nation Building' fund topreserve the Botanical Park, which truly is one of the best real attractions for tourists, residents and locals alike.  The work of the people at Botanical Park is amazing, and we really should try to step in here, not to stop development, but to amend it to take into account the concerns expressed in this article.  Please buy, or compulsorily purchase if necessary, all lands in the immediate surrounding area to act as a buffer between the park and any new developments.  At the same time, could you please ensure our water lens is protected.  

    While I am at it (I know I'm pushing it but I have to ask), please could you also buy the plots of  land either side of the launching ramp at Frank Sound, and declare them public beach.  There is no public beach between Bodden Town and East End, and I'm sure the residents of Breakers, Frank Sound, and North Side would be very grateful.

    Please don't let us lose everything before the greed and development stops.

    Thank you

    Concerned North Sider

    • Anonymous says:

      No public beach?  How about Heritage Beach in Cottage?

      • Anonymous says:

        Have you seen the ironshore you have to walk on/past to get to the ironshore sticking out of the water that is just before the turtle grass beds that are in front of the beautiful white holes where we can swim?

        • SSM345 says:

          09:34, there are these shoes nowadays called crocs, you should go and buy a pair.

          • Anonymous says:

            No thanks, i think i'll go get a free pair of the non-biodegradable ones that are nailed to the "shoe tree" in South Sound by every jonny-come-lately. Isnt that littering? Almost every day you can see someone stopping by and nailing their garbage on this tree, they've even started on the roots now!

             

            Hypocritical South Sound-ers dont want development because it will ruin the beauty and scenery of the coastline, but they tolerate the "shoe tree"??

             

            • SSM345 says:

              Shoe trees will disappear when the ES development gets well under way, they will then have to litter somewhere else.

          • Anonymous says:

            I'm not the poster above but I would rather walk barefoot than wear crocs on the ironshore.  That is definitely not safe.

        • Anonymous says:

          Oh dear.  Is nature not nice enough for you?  

      • Anonymous says:

        There is no public beach between BT and Heritage Beach which last time I checked was EE as the commenter states.  I actually think this is a great idea.  Surely it makes sense to have public beach either side of the public launching ramp at Frank Sound?

      • Anonymous says:

        For those who spend their time insulting the National Trust, I hope they remember Heritage Beach is currently owned by the National Trust and also note that it was donated to the Trust by a private citizen.

        Heritage Beach is one of the few beaches available to the public.  I've noticed it is well utalized, but I have to wonder how many of those people who use it donate a $1 to its upkeep??

        • Anonymous says:

          I visit Heritage beach regularly.  I like it because its always deserted.  And yes, I donate, and I buy items from the National Trust store on South Church Street all the time.

    • Dangermouse says:

      No public beach….all beach below the high water mark is property of HM the Queen and as such is deemedusable by the public (Unless that is of course, that you are a South Sound developer in which case none of the above applies)

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes we all know that dear (except for those rich people that like to build their nice big houses on the beach and then claim everything including the waterline and beyond is theirs).

        But I am talking about the entire beach beyond the waterline and to the main road.  In fact, why am I explaining myself to you.  Anybody reading with common sense knows exactly what I mean by public beach – except you apparently.

  16. Anonymous says:

    These are hard times, and we will have to honestly except that  every body needs to survive, so the  name of the game is SHARE,

  17. Anonymous says:

    Nah nah naaah nah; nah nah naaah nah; hey hey hey, good-bye

  18. Anonymous says:

    The trust needs to buy some of this land. It has the money.

    • Anonymous says:

      The current government has done absolutely nothing of value in the past 3 1/2 years but they are responsible for more destruction of this island than any other government in our history.  As the saying goes- hindsight is 20/20 vision but prhaps it is not too late to do something about it.  Perhaps the Trust could start up a collection/pledge drive to get some cash quickly to try to buy a few adjourning lots (if any remains) before it is all gone.  Everyone who truly loves and cares about Cayman could donate a few dollars.,  THIS IS SO SAD!

    • Anonymous says:

      And you "know" this now?