Law dictates beach debris removal

Mother Nature can be cruel to seaside homeowners when high seas toss rocks and debris onto property as it did recently with Hurricane Dean.

Recent newspaper articles and discussion on radio talk shows has prompted Director of Planning Kenneth Ebanks and Chairman of the Central Planning Authority Dalkeith Bothwell to comment on the issue.

The Development and Planning Law (2005) revision, sections 28 and 29 which specifies that whoever ‘…takes or removes any sand, gravel, pebbles, stone or other filling… between the mean high water and five hundred feet inland thereof… is guilty of an offence…’.

The law does state that a limited amount of the above can be removed for domestic purposes but cannot exceed one cubic yard in any one month.

Mr Ebanks explains that this section of the law was transferred from the 1971 law when conditions on the islands were different.

‘At that time many people had sand yards and there was demand for fresh sand especially at Christmas. In those days sand, gravel, rocks were used for building walls, in artwork, and to decorate yards. The material was usually harvested by hand which is a more sustainable method than the backhoes and front end loaders that we see today,’ he said

The law is still relevant today.

‘While we should maintain certain traditions, the removal of debris from the beach ridge is of significant cost to our waterfront. Today, if each household removed one yard of sand each month – soon we would have no sand. No sand would mean no beaches, which means decreased tourism; this means decreased foreign exchange and decreased economic benefits, which would lead to a decreased quality of life.’

Waterfronts, especially beach coastlines, require more careful consideration today than was the norm in the 70s.

Planning Department, Central Planning Authority and the Development Control Board in the Sister Islands have received requests to remove storm debris from the waterfront to use as fill in construction sites, or as exchange as payment to the equipment owner for moving the debris.

In the Sister Islands, the Development Control Board requires excavators or landowners to put in a planning application before removing material in order to manage its use.

They have consistently discouraged the removal of material from vacant lots in order to maintain the stability of the beach/ storm ridge, which helps to protect the coast from damage during storms. When a homeowner asks for permission to remove storm debris from their parcel in order to open access to their home and property the DCB usually agrees as long as the removal of the debris doesn’t include extraneous material that is to be resold as fill.

‘Fill taken from the sea or shortly after a storm is not suitable for certain types of construction and more importantly the long term impact of removing material from beaches may lead to extremes of beach erosion. For the most part we haven’t had significant opposition to this law once the long term environmental impact with regard to the coast is explained,’ Mr. Bothwell said.

‘Concurrently, we understand and empathise with the plight faced by some waterfront property owners,’ said Mr. Ebanks. ‘ Finding the right balance between allowing managed removal of storm related debris only vs moving pre-storm material is the root cause of the conflict.’

Mr. Bothwell said the CPA and DCB have no issue with property owners moving storm related rocks and sand back onto the beach but sometimes when using heavy equipment to remove storm related debris a large amount of rocks and sand is removed, which can be used as fill material in the construction industry.

It is this for-profit use of the valuable beach ridge material that has the Planning Department, CPA and DCB concerned.

‘In the past, large developments on the beach have requested the removal of sand and rock from their development site and if we keep removing this material from the beach ridge it will have a long term effect on the coastline – some of which have manifested themselves 25-30 years later. Today as part of our approval process and conditions of the planning permission we inform land owners and developers that any removal of rock and sand from the coast after a storm must be coordinated with the Department of Environment (DoE),’ said Mr. Bothwell.

‘In short, the Law is still relevant -the beach needs to be protected more so now than ever before. Revisiting the section dealing with one yard per month for domestic purposes is timely,’ said Mr. Ebanks


For more information on the Planning Department visit Leeward One, Regatta Office Park or, email at [email protected] or call 769-PLAN (7526), the Planning Office, 2nd Floor District Admin. Bldg., Stake Bay Cayman Brac, or call 244-4421; fax 948-2422