Residents fear environmental fallout

Residents of the Mahogany Estates development opposed to developer Lorenzo Berry’s application to open a quarry and excavate a canal with access to the sea next to their homes fear the environmental consequences of the project may extend far beyond the 44-acre beach bay site.

Spokesman Rev. Nicholas Sykes, pastor of St. Alban’s Anglican Church and a Mahogany Estates Resident, said his group has received insufficient assurance that their concerns are being heard, and worried that ordinary citizens are being given short shrift by the organizations which should be protecting them.

‘We have gone to the Planning Department and the Central Planning Authority, the Complaints Commissioner, the NRA, the Department of Environment, the Leader of Government Business, the MLA’s on both political sides, the police the Governor and the press – at what point are we ordinary residents going to feel protected?’ he said at a recent information session.

‘Although we have worked hard to ensure the avoidance of disaster not only to us but to the country, still we are confronted by a CPA meeting on 27 August that appears to us to be unnecessary.’

Mr. Berry was granted approval in 1997 to clear, level and remove under strict limitations, some of the material in the proposed road corridors.

In 2000, the limits of the 1997 permission were reinforced and he was denied any “cutting, filling and/or leveling” of proposed lots without permission for subsequent development of the lots because CPA was already concerned that work had been carried out contrary to the terms of the 1997 approval.

Mr. Sykes said the area has been quarried over the years resulting in a 17-foot deep crater. He said numerous explosions have caused extensive damage to some properties closer to the development, and residents close to the blasting area were not warned or notified, while trucks raced through the streets all day and night, endangering residents and causing dust and noise.

‘Last year, trucks were parking in people’s drive ways overnight on King’s Chase Road, with the drivers sleeping in the trucks, in order to be first into the area in the morning. This was in spite of a stop order,’ he said.

Late last year following numerous complaints to Planning and the office of the Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts, a few residents of Mahogany Estates met with Mr. Tibbetts.

Following the meeting, says Mr. Sykes, the Berrys were told by the Leader of Government Business to cease this activity.

However, in May and June of this year, residents received a letter from WRI Ltd. titled “Application by WRI Ltd., Block 38E, Parcel 17 REM 4, Temporary Variation from Primary Use.”

It outlined the company’s plans are to level the 44 acres parcel from its current height of between 20 and 30 feet above sea level, to 10 feet above the mean sea level, about 5 feet above ground level.

‘In no way is this plan a variation of the current planning permission,’ said Mr. Sykes.

‘This plan should never, ever even be considered in a residential area.’

Planning Director Kenneth Ebanks won’t comment for the time being.

‘The subject matter is to be heard by the CPA in the near future and as such I will not make any comments on the submission as it maybe prejudicial to the process,’ he said in statement.

‘Once the application has been through the legal process I will be prepared to make further statements.”

The CPA meeting is to be held on 27 August.

‘Many residents have not yet received their letters. Many are off island. This gives us no time to prepare for the meeting,’ said Mr. Sykes.

Environment at risk

But aside from the problems associated with living near a functioning quarry, Reverend Sykes said the group’s main concern is the effect this could have on the environment.

‘It’s not just our own property in Mahogany Estates, but the whole of the surrounding area and possibly the whole Island,’ he said.

‘It will destroy 44 acres of woodland, including silver thatch, banana orchids, bromeliads, ironwood trees etc. The area currently is home to Cayman Parrots, woodpeckers, agoutis, crabs and snakes,’ said fellow resident Jean Ebanks.

Mr. Mat DaCosta-Cottam, senior research officer with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment says there is no provision under current legislation to influence any aspect of this development from a nature conservation perspective.

He says that while critically endangered and endemic flora are found in the Beach Bay forest, none benefit from any form of legal protection.

‘Currently there is no formal requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment, which would have represented a process where-by the economic benefits of this activity, could have been judged against, not only the environmental impacts but also the social impacts for residents in this neighbourhood although an EIA would, of course, be required under the National Conservation Law,’ he says.

Mr. DaCosta-Cottam lists a slew of environmental impacts such a quarry would have. They include loss of natural topography, interruption of natural drainage patterns, redirection of floodwater, loss of primary forest vegetation including critically endangered and endemic species, increased susceptibility of remnant forest to wind damage, ingress of invasive species, disturbance due to noise and activity, dust damage.

A quarry would also have social impact, he says. These include a lowered quality of life due to disturbance due to noise and activity in a residential area, trucks, dust, impact on property prices, loss of hedonic value, possible repercussions for storm security.