NC Council and DoE thrash out new roles

| 10/12/2014

(CNS): The debut meeting of the National Conservation Council (NCC) last Wednesday also saw its first heated debate, when members thrashed out the roles of the Department of Environment (DoE), its director and the NCC in implementing its new powers. The debate led to an early divide in opinion in the council over ambiguities in the law and the possible implications for any and all development of the island that could affect the environment. The new process requires those seeking approval for any major development to consult the National Conservation Council (NCC) under the National Conservation Law. Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) will now be compulsory if the council finds sufficient “red flags” over the impact on the environment of any development.

These assessments will take into account the potential environmental impact of developments over one acre, all coastal and marine development, and applications in areas covered by the Habitat Screening Map.

Any large scale residential, industrial or hotel development will require consultation by the NCC, to be screened and approved by them. 

The law stipulates that every government entity, except Cabinet, shall “consult with the Council and take into account any views of the Council before taking any action”, including granting licences or permits they feel “would or would be likely to have an adverse effect on the environment generally or on any natural resource.”

This is all a big step forward for the Cayman Islands in terms of forming its own legal obligations to consider the preservation of the islands' natural heritage versus private and public development.

Even government entities, except Cabinet, will need to follow the law and “apply for and obtain the approval of the Council before taking any action” they feel “would or would be likely to have an adverse effect, whether directly or indirectly, on a protected area or on the critical habitat of a protected species.”

The law grants the NCC the power to issue binding cease and desist orders to anyone who fails to consult with it. The penalties for not complying with the NCC are a $500,000 fine, up to four years imprisonment and/or other punishments that may be imposed by the courts.

This has led to fears of an over extension of power for the government from certain sectors of the media and private developers. Council member Davy Ebanks questioned aloud during the meeting whether the ambiguities in the bill were leading to the creation of a “bloated” bureaucracy, hindering a private individual’s rights to develop their land without having to run through extensive and expensive EIA’s.

He also warned the NCC that this would affect small farmers and landholders principally, saying that when this “unworkable interdepartmental bureaucracy” ran into the problems he described, he reserved the right to say “I told unna so”.

The response from Gina Ebanks-Petrie, the DoE director, was that an EIA would only be necessaryif the NCC agrees by vote that significant “red flags” are raised in terms of the projects potential impact on the environment. She said an EIA would take up a minimal percentage (0.1%) of the total cost of the overall development of any property based on  the years of experience the government department has had dealing with EIAs and their costs on average.

She also went on to explain that ambiguities in the law allow for its flexibility in its evolution. While acknowledging the potential for abuse of such powers, she also explained that it is up to the discretion of those appointed by elected officials to preserve the integrity of such legislation.

“The detractors of the law would have us believe that it is going to usurp the authority of the CPA and other government bodies, and that is clearly not the case,” Ebanks-Petrie added

It was also confirmed that the Invasive Species Committee will be chaired by Davy Ebanks and it will give a report monthly to the NCC on matters involving non-native species, such as green iguanas and floral diseases. The attorney general will advise the NCC in legal areas, as the National Conservation Law is not yet fully in force and it is being implemented in stages.

The NCC will meet on the second week of every month and the next public meeting will be held on 25 February.

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  1. Legal Smeagol says:

    This is how conservation gets derailed. Fill up the board with stooges for the developers. Game over.