Thumbs up for conservation law at GT meeting

Before making a presentation of the
proposed National Conservation Law at the latest district meeting, the director
of the Department of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie declared that, considering
the audience, she would be preaching to the converted. She was not wrong.

At the meeting in George Town on
Thursday night, 8 July, the proposed law got a very different reception than it
received at the first meeting in North Side a week earlier, when North Siders
aimed some sharp criticisms at the law and raised several concerns.

Some audience members suggested the
rewording of some clauses in the law, while others questioned whether it went
far enough, but the general consensus among the 30 attendees was that it was
about time the law was passed.

A comment from Ray Farrington
seemed to sum up the general feeling. “Let’s just get it passed. It’s a law. As
time goes on, down the road, if section whatever needs to be tweaked, tweak it.
Just get it done. It’s craziness,” he said.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie, in response to
a question from Tommie Bodden on why it was taking so long to enact the law,
said it had been nearly a decade in the making. In 2001, Premier McKeeva Bush,
who was the environment minister at the time, signed an environmental charter
with the UK that committed to the creation of legislation to ensure the
protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscapes.

Council makeup

Addressing concerns from critics of
the draft law at earlier meetings and on radio talk shows that an 11-member
National Conservation Council would be heavily weighted toward
environmentalists, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said: “Of course it is. The council is
not a body that is meant to dilute its advice, it is not meant to compromise
the advice that it gives. It is meant to give advice to other decision-making
bodies, like the Central Planning Authority, like the Water Authority, like
Cabinet, like the Roads Authority, when they are making their decisions.”

She added that the council did not
make the final decision on whether a development went ahead or whether a
planning application was granted. Its role, under the law, was to give advice
and recommendations, which the Central Planning Authority or other statutory
bodies or Cabinet was obliged to take into account when making a decision, and
that the final decision lay in the hands of Cabinet.

“Of course the council is weighted
towards people who care about the environment and who would be predisposed to
making decisions that are in the best interest of the environment. Not only
does the law require that, but I think the public would expect that from a
National Conservation Council. It’s not a planning law, it’s not a development
law, it is a conservation law,” Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie told the gathering at
Elmslie Church hall.

Asked by contractor Terry Ford
whether a representative of the Department of Environment or the National
Conservation Council would sit on the Central Planning Authority board to
oversee or be consulted on applications, the environmental director said her
department had been trying for about 20 years to get some type of
representation on the Central Planning Authority and already provided comments
to them on applications. “Rarely, if ever, have we been taken up on that,” she

Mr. Ford pointed out that it may
speed up applications and prevent developers from being given permission by the
planning authority to carry out large projects that have not been given the
go-ahead or been reviewed by the conservation council.

If approval for development in a
protected area is given without consultation with the National Conservation
Council, a cease and desist notice can be issued, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said.

Clarity urged

Walling Whittaker said there was a
need for a “clear and unambiguous environmental impact assessment” approach, adding:
“I am still not sure that we are achieving that here, and there’s a great,
great demand for clarity. I’ve seen other approaches in which it’s much more
crystal clear and would help us achieve the desired objective here.”

He said a clear definition of zones
in which an EIA would be required would get rid of much of the “scariness or
the uncertainty” regarding the National Conservation Council.

He added that any conservation law
would have to work hand in hand with a development plan for Cayman.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie explained that
developers would be expected to undertake environmental impact assessments if
they applied to build in certain pre-identified areas and if they wanted
permission to do certain types of developments. Those details would be outlined
in regulations and directives connected with the proposed legislation.

Carol “Tootie” Eldemire-Huddleston
raised concerns about proposed dredging in the North Sound to create a channel
for mega-yachts. “Messing around with coastlines never has a good ending,” she

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said if the
conservation law was in place, that project would trigger an environmental
impact assessment, which would provide solid evidence on whether there was a
market for mega-yachts in Cayman and any ensuing economic benefits, as well as
look at potential environmental impacts on the Sandbar. “We could look at this
in a way that was objective, not speculative and subjective and the people
charged with the making the decision – Cabinet – would have that information,
but the public also would have that information,” she said.

Mike Adam, the only elected
official who attended the meeting, made no public comments.

More meetings

The Department of Environment has
taken the draft law on the road, holding meetings at seven locations throughout
the Cayman Islands over two weeks. The next meeting will be held at John A.
Cumber Hall in West Bay on Monday, 12 July. There will also be a meeting on
Tuesday, 13 July, at the East End Community Centre, and on Thursday, 15 July at
the Aston Rutty Centre on Cayman Brac. All three meeting begin at 7pm.

The deadline for receipt of public
comments on the proposed law is Friday, 16 July.

A copy of the draft law and comment
forms are available at the Department of Environment website at
Printed copies can be picked up from the DoE office or at any of the district
public meetings.