The unauthorised clearance of mangrove and other wetland plants from a site near Barkers National Park in West Bay has left residents angered and complaining of an offensive smell in the area.
The property, which borders the Pappagallo Pond on Powery Road, was cleared in March to make way for a private horse stable and equestrian facility for the family of shipping magnate Andreas Ugland.
An after-the-fact planning application to clear and fill the land was subsequently submitted to the Department of Planning on 23 May.
Following recent heavy rains, the pond has begun to emit a pungent odour, which residents believe is related to decomposing mangrove on the pond’s edge.
West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin, who lives down the road from the site, says he has received complaints about the smell from residents up to a mile away.
‘It’s been awful,’ he said.
‘Frankly, it’s decreasing people’s quality of life. I live in the area and you literally can’t go outside at certain times and play with your kids.’
Lodovico Testori, owner of Ristorante Pappagallo, which sits across the pond, says the smell is worse than he has experienced in 24 years. He is concerned that his business will be impacted if the smell doesn’t clear soon. But by Thursday morning he said the smell had started to improve.
‘It just makes things tougher in an already tough economy,’ he told the Compass.
A statement released Thursday by Old House Property Ltd, of which Mr. Ugland is the main shareholder, said the smell coming from the pond is hardly a unique situation given that the island had some torrential rain last week after a lengthy period of dry weather.
‘In regards to the suggestion that the smell results from work that was under way at Parcels 86 and 96, we are in discussions with some experts to find out if this is indeed the case or if the odour has been an issue previously,’ the statement said.
‘Either way, a solution has to be found to eliminate the odour.
‘It should be noted at this point that a meeting has been arranged for [Thursday] on site with a local expert to devise a method to improve the situation,’ it continued.
‘We take the concerns raised by the surrounding residents very serious and together we will work towards a solution that is beneficial to all the parties involved.’
The Department of Planning has ordered a freeze on all work on the site, pending a Central Planning Authority decision on the application. That hearing will not occur until mid-July at the earliest. Neighbours and other interested residents now have until 16 June to make a submission on the application.
The Old House Property Ltd. statement said the land had been cleared under the mistaken belief that planning permission was not required.
‘The land on parcels 8A 86 and 8A 96 were bought without specific corner markings. A fixed boundary survey was commissioned and carried out by a local land surveyor who then notified all adjacent land owners by registered letters to inspect the boundary markers,’ it stated.
‘After a statutory period of six weeks the land surveyor advised that if no objections were received it was acceptable to clear the land of the bush.
‘It was not known at this time that planning permission was required to simply clear land, however it was subsequently learned that if mechanical plant was to be used in the clearing and not simply hand cleared, then in fact planning permission was indeed required.’
Mr. Anglin said residents believe the developers’ actions were designed to circumvent the planning process.
‘I think they have tried to box the Central Planning Authority in by clearing the land, doing an after-the-fact application, and then saying ‘we did this by mistake, but the mangrove is already cleared’,’ he said.
Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie confirmed her department is working with the Water Authority to get to the bottom of what is causing the stench and to determine whether anything can be done about it.
Planning Assistant Director Ron Sanderson conceded ‘act now, ask later’ practices were being seen all too often by his department. He pointed to a lack of effective penalties as one of the reasons the department receives so many after-the-fact planning applications.
As it stands, the maximum penalty that can be doled out under the relevant section of the Planning Law is $5,000 plus $1,000 for every day that any enforcement notice is not complied with.
‘We are trying to address this problem with amendments to the law and regulations, but that is still in the process. Certainly, many fines have been imposed over the years, but very few have been the maximum.
‘All in all, the current inadequate enforcement process seems to have bred an atmosphere of ‘it’s easier to beg forgiveness than seek approval’,’ he said.
Mr. Anglin said he will urge legislative action to increase penalties and beef-up enforcement powers so caviller developers cannot simply ignore the law.
‘Legislators are paying attention. We are not going to simply sit idly by and watch large developers come in and simply have their way,’ he continued. ‘We want to keep Cayman as a good, friendly place to do good business but this sort of thing really goes against the grain of what Cayman is about and what it should be about.’