North Siders criticise proposed conservation law

North Siders aired their
concerns about the proposed National Conservation Law on Thursday, 1 July,
during the first of a new round of public meetings before the bill goes to the
Legislative Assembly in September.

The main criticisms centred
on the makeup of the National Conservation Council, the 11-member body charged
with administering the law.

Jerris Miller pointed out
that, of five members to be appointed by the Governor in Cabinet, at least one
had to be from Cayman Brac or Little Cayman. He asked why the law did not
specify one North Sider, since landowners in that district had already demonstrated
that they know how to manage their land and develop it responsibly.

He also asserted that the
Department of Environment would be controlling four of the 11 seats on the
council because the voting members included the department director or nominee,
the department’s assistant director of research, and two people with scientific
or relevant expertise to be selected from a list compiled by the director. Four
others would be civil servants and a fifth would be nominated by the National
Trust.

Mr. Miller disagreed with
the stated quorum of five for council meetings; he suggested two-thirds. With
five, he suggested, a simple majority meant three people could make decisions
affecting the entire country.

Harry Chisholm said he also
had concerns about the structure of the council because it seemed to be
weighted in favour of environmentalists. He wanted to see better balance and suggested
appointing a few business people. The council would then be viewed as more
friendly, Mr. Chisholm said.

Justin Woods suggested that
“technocrats” on the council should be non-voting members.

Department of Environment
Senior Research Officer John Bothwell said one purpose of the public meetings
was to get this kind of feedback. He later explained that the membership of the
council is set out in a schedule to the law rather than in the law itself. That
means it can be changed in Cabinet, which is fairly easy, as distinct from
having to amend the law, which would mean taking it to Legislative Assembly.

More than 20 people, not all
of them North Side residents, attended the meeting at the Craddock Ebanks Civic
Centre. They included Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden and East End MLA Arden
McLean, neither of whom spoke.

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller
started to speak, but after an exchange of words with Department of Environment
Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie, he said she could hear what he had to say in September,
when the bill is expected to be debated in the House. Meanwhile, he announced
that he would hold a public meeting to discuss the bill on Thursday, 8 July, at
the civic centre, starting at 8pm.

Mr. Miller, the district’s
lone MLA, seemed to disagree when Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie went through the law’s
provisions and said there was no power of compulsory land purchase. His remark
was not clearly heard because it was not made into a microphone, but he later
indicated the topic was one he would address at his public meeting.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie used a
slide presentation with numerous photos and graphs to illustrate points in the
law. These included not only pictures of Cayman’s endangered plants and animals
that would be protected by the law, but also charts showing how environmental
impact assessments would be handled. “Environmental impact assessments do not
make decisions: they are decision-making tools,” she said.

She emphasised that the law
would not place more burden or red tape on developers. “The law places compliance
requirements on government agencies, not on individuals,” she said. The kind of
investor Cayman wants to attract will appreciate knowing that decision-makers
are taking the long-term view, she said; developers want a clear, transparent
process.

As to the perceived powers
of the National Conservation Council, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie pointed to
requirements in the law for the council to follow directives from Cabinet and
to submit annual reports to the Legislative Assembly.

Ministry of Environment
Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn and Mr. Bothwell assisted Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie with
the presentation, response to questions and recording of comments.

Feedback forms were
available for everyone attending the meeting, and people were also encouraged
to go to the department’s website and register their opinions. Public consultation
continues until 16 July. A comprehensive overview of the proposed National
Conservation Law appeared in the Caymanian Compass edition published on Friday,
25 June.

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