Waste discharge at issue
The Office of the Complaints Commissioner will investigate whether the Cayman Turtle Farm has ignored, possibly for decades, its obligations to discharge water, sewage and other substances from its West Bay property in a safe and environmentally sound manner.
Complaints Commissioner John Epp said there is no evidence that a licence allowing the tourist attraction to discharge effluent has ever been granted since the Turtle Farm was purchased by government in 1983. Effluent includes all discharges from the property, liquid or solid, which flow into the sea.
Further, Mr. Epp said he’s received nothing from Turtle Farm management to indicate the facility was exempted from the licence requirements; a claim he said has been made to the OCC in the past.
Mr. Epp said his office was unaware of any power the Water Authority or the Department of Environmental Health has to exempt the operation from such licensing requirements.
He said the lack of a marine discharge licence makes it extremely difficult for the authority to monitor and regulate the effluent that is flowing from the Turtle Farm.
‘The Water Authority has…taken action to monitor and to attempt to control through licensing the discharge of effluent from the Turtle Farm facility,’ Mr. Epp said. ‘The alleged failure of the Cayman Turtle Farm to address questions raised by the Water Authority and its alleged failure to adhere to the law brings into question the administration of the Cayman Turtle Farm.’
The obvious concern is that unregulated amounts of sewage could be flowing into the waters surrounding Cayman. But Mr. Epp said even seemingly benign items like turtle food could have negative environmental impacts.
The OCC investigation, which was announced Wednesday, is not the first such probe into these environmental concerns.
In 2005, the complaints commissioner’s office looked into claims from a member of the public that the Water Authority was failing to monitor wastewater discharge from the Turtle Farm. Mr. Epp said that complaint proved to be unfounded.
The investigation took more than a year to complete. The delay was blamed in part on the Turtle Farm’s failure to meet Water Authority requests in a timely manner.
The issue of whether the Turtle Farm operation would be given licence to discharge effluent into offshore waters was reported by the Caymanian Compass in November 2006, as the facility was preparing to open a major expansion, which included two swimming lagoons.
At the time, former Managing Director Ken Hydes said an anti-degradation study was being done so a marine discharge licence could be approved. Mr. Hydes also said that the permit had to be granted before any fish were added to the salt water lagoon — which happened on 24 February.
According to Mr. Epp, a partial anti-degradation study was done but he said based on information the OCC obtained from the Water Authority, that study was so incomplete it lacked any significant value.
The amount of trade effluent discharge from the Turtle Farm commercial operation was estimated at 17,000 gallons per minute in 2005, before its new section opened.
However, Mr. Epp points out that the Turtle Farm estimated trade effluent discharge would only increase by 56,000 gallons per year when the park expanded to include the swimming lagoons.
The OCC’s investigation will focus on whether a marine discharge licence is required for the Turtle Farm or if it was somehow granted an exception, and why there was a failure to get that licence if it was needed.
The third part of the probe will focus on what the complaints commissioner said was a potential conflict of interest with the person supervising Turtle Farm operations.
Joseph Ebanks was named chief operating officer of the Turtle Farm in January, and took over as acting managing director when Mr. Hydes resigned in September. Mr. Ebanks is a member of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors.
Mr. Epp said it was obvious that problems with the effluent discharge licence started long before Mr. Ebanks was named chief operating officer at the Turtle Farm. However, he noted that shortly after Mr. Ebanks was given that position, the facility was allowed to put fish in its saltwater lagoon attraction…with no evidence that a discharge licence had been granted.
‘Could Mr. Ebanks have influenced the Water Authority to turn a blind eye? It is a question we’ll ask,’ he said.
The Caymanian Compass contacted Mr. Ebanks for comment on the OCC’s investigation. He directed all questions to the Ministry of Tourism.
The ministry released the following statement Thursday on behalf of Mr. Ebanks:
‘The management and staff of Boatswain’s Beach (Cayman Turtle Farm) recognises and respects the authority granted to the Office of the Complaints Commissioner under the law. As Acting Managing Director of Boatswain’s Beach, I welcome and will cooperate fully with the OCC.
‘Effluent disposal licensing has been an on going issue for several years now and it was a priority on my ‘to do’ list when I took on the role of acting managing director approximately three months ago. To reiterate, everyone here at Boatswain’s Beach will do their part to assist the OCC with their enquiries which we hope will enable a speedy resolution.’
The OCC investigation will begin in January.