Turtle farm report due

A report that is expected to be critical of the Cayman Turtle Farm’s inability to fulfil its obligations to safely discharge water, sewage and other substances from its West Bay facility was presented to the Legislative Assembly more than a month ago.

Complaints Commissioner John Epp, who authored the report, said he expected the document to be released to the public in the current LA session, possibly following the completion of the budget debate and finance committee meetings.

Mr. Epp declined to discuss the specifics of the report, stating the Complaints Commissioner Law requires that it be tabled in the House before he can comment on it.

He said about a dozen people had been interviewed in the course of his investigation, and that the Office of the Complaints Commissioner had received good cooperation from the parties involved.

Upon announcing his investigation in December, Mr. Epp said there was no evidence that a licence allowing the tourist attraction to discharge effluent has ever been granted since the Turtle Farm (now known as Boatswain’s Beach) was purchased by government in 1983. Effluent includes all discharges from the property, liquid or solid, which flow into the ocean.

Mr. Epp said he had received nothing from Turtle Farm management to indicate the facility was exempted from the licence requirements.

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 determine exactly what is flowing into the ocean from the Turtle Farm, or the amount that is released.

‘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 in December. ‘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 Complaints Commissioner’s review focused on whether a marine discharge licence is required for the Turtle Farm or if the facility was somehow granted an exception, and why there was a failure to get that licence if it was needed.

Conflict of interests

Another issue Mr. Epp is expected to address in his report is whether the man now managing the Turtle Farm, Joseph Ebanks, had a conflict due to his position there and membership on the Water Authority’s board of directors.

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 — a feature that opened 24 February, 2007.

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.

Mr. Ebanks was named chief operating officer of the Turtle Farm in January 2007, and took over as managing director when Mr. Hydes resigned last fall.

Mr. Epp said it was obvious problems with the effluent discharge licence started before Mr. Ebanks was named chief operating officer. However, he noted that shortly after Mr. Ebanks was given the position, the tourist attraction was allowed to put fish in its saltwater lagoon attraction…with no evidence that a discharge licence had been granted.

The Compass contacted Mr. Ebanks on Tuesday. He said he was still acting as managing director and chief operating officer of Boatswain’s Beach.

Queries about Mr. Ebanks’ current membership on the Water Authority board had not been answered by press time.

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