Conservation Bill ads defended

The man behind an advertisement criticising the draft National Conservation Bill is standing by his claims, despite the advertisement being labeled factually incorrect and misleading.

Justin Woods, a quarry owner, entrepreneur and farmer, wrote the full-page advertisement, which first appeared in newspapers 11 June. The advertisement again ran in the Caymanian Compass Friday.

The advertisements claimed to have been taken by a group calling itself the Committee for the Protection of Property Owners Rights and the Continued Prosperity of the Cayman Islands.

Mr. Woods says there are about 20 people on the committee and the number is growing. The committee plans to send a letter to Government in the next few weeks asking it to reconsider the law, he said.

In a story published 26 June in the Caymanian Compass, Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie contradicted many of the statements made in the advertisement.

But Mr. Woods is not shying away from his claims.

He said Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie’s comments did not change his belief that the proposed law will take away property owners rights, diminish property values and reduce or eliminate development potential.

Mr. Woods claims the proposed law will also increase the cost of land development, driving up the cost of home ownership in Cayman.

He said people had always brought land in Cayman with the belief they could fully use it under the Planning Law.

‘This ability to develop property has allowed property to maintain its value and, in most cases, appreciate. Which investor would want to buy property that can not be fully utilised or that is so costly to develop that it is no longer economically feasible to develop?

‘I don’t think anybody wants more restrictions placed on property. Lots of things are already covered by planning laws,’ he said.

Mr. Woods is also concerned about a section of the law that will require property owners to get a permit to develop property if the property contains a species that is protected by a conservation plan.

Conservation plans are created under the legislation to protect endangered species, species native to Cayman and species that the Cayman Islands had agreed to protect under an international treaty.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said permits will not commonly be required, and are not envisaged for home owners wanting to develop their property.

But Mr. Woods says no one will know until the conservation plans are publicly available. He is concerned the conservation plans will usher in a brand of DoE driven environmental extremism that provides a back-door way of taking property for protection, without providing compensation to the owner.

Mr. Woods also has a problem with a part of the law that sets out when Environmental Impact Assessments can be required for proposed developments.

He says the system already gives the Central Planning Authority discretion to order an EIA.

Under the proposed legislation, a National Conservation Council will be responsible for deciding when an EIA is necessary.

The council will be made up of representatives from the Department of Environment, the Ministry responsible for the Environment, the Agriculture Department, the Planning Department, the National Trust, as well as five people appointed by Cabinet. Two of the cabinet appointees must be from Cayman Brac or Little Cayman, and two must have scientific or other relevant experience.

Mr. Woods is concerned that the Conservation Council will have too much power to order EIA’s.

‘The Department of Environment is apparently not confident in the integrity and ability of the CPA members to make informed decisions regarding planning applications,’ he said.

‘I am not saying any impediment to development is unwarranted. What I am saying is that there are already restrictions on development; the environment is already taken into consideration and the DoE already get input into plans that are with the planning department.’

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie says it is important to introduce legislation that formalises when EIA’s are required, as no such regulations currently exist.

‘Now, there are no regulations in place and it is too uncertain. Developers come here and ask ‘what is the process?’ and we can’t say because there isn’t a prescribed process,’ she said last week.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said EIA’s will allow information on proposed developments to be set out clearly, and the public will be able to comment on the proposal. This will make the decision making process more transparent and equitable, she added.

Mr. Woods said he agrees with any plan to open up the development process and make it more transparent, but he thinks the National Conservation Council has too much power under the legislation.

‘What I do disagree with is giving anyone the ability to ride roughshod over everybody else, and that’s what this law does.’

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