As the 22 May General Election nears in the Cayman Islands, candidates vying for one of the 18 seats in the next Legislature will have to address myriad issues from crime to the economy and even the environment. Topping the list of green issues is the environment in the Cayman Islands. We use it to draw tourists and residents depend on the sea and land for sustenance.
National Conservation Law
Still waiting for legislative attention is the National Conservation Law.
The discovery of wild stingrays in a tank in the Dolphin Discovery dolphinarium in West Bay last year led to renewed calls for the long-awaited National Conservation Law to be enacted. It prompted an online petition, posted by conservationist Guy Harvey, calling for better protection for rays and the enactment of the law under which they would be provided such protection.
Instead, the government opted to amend the Marine Conservation Law to include rays among species that cannot be taken from local waters. That legislation was passed in the final sitting of this government’s Legislative Assembly session.
Meanwhile, the National Conservation Bill, the content of which has been subject to several public consultations and rewrites over the years, remains in limbo. The bill would offer better protection for the flora and fauna of the Cayman Islands, including its parrots, marine life and all other animals.
Now that the Legislative Assembly has been dissolved, the issue will not be addressed against legislatively until after the 22 May general elections.
The law is opposed by several developers and landowners who fear that it contains draconian measures that will stymie development and put up obstacles to building and developing on one’s own land.
In the last draft of the bill to be seen by the public, in 2010, sections of the Animals Law and the Marine Conservation Law are amalgamated into the legislation, which also puts in place provisions of international agreements, including on biological diversity, climate change, wetlands, marine life and migratory species. It creates a National Conservation Council with 11 voting members, including two from the Department of Environment.
That council would issue permits that exempt specific individuals from certain sections of the law (for example, to capture and keep protected animals as part of a rescue programme), and to issue licenses to grant qualified individuals to perform certain activities covered by the law (for example, to hunt with spear guns). The council can also recommend that Cabinet designate certain areas of Crown land as protected zones and recommend that Cabinet grant protected status to certain species.
Within that bill is a list of protected plants and animals, including species protected under existing law or under international measures, or that are endemic to the Islands. While some marine animals and land animals are protected, Cayman does not offer any protections for plants. The only legislation that offers any environmental protection to any of Cayman’s lands is the Animals Law of 1976, which legally protects only 0.5 per cent of the Cayman Islands by preserving small areas in which endangered animal species live.
Under the law, there is no provision for compulsory acquisition of land for conservation purposes. Instead, money for the purchase of private lands would come from a new Conservation Fund, which could only be used to purchase and manage protected areas.
The proposed legislation would also empower Department of Environment conservation officers to enforce the law and the Department of Environment director would be able to issue cease-and-desist orders to stop unlawful activity, breaches of permits or licences, or halt work by those who fail to submit or comply with the conditions of an environmental assessment.
Currently, there is no requirement under the law for environmental impact assessments to be done on developments and the Department of Environment has what its director has described as an informal “gentlemen’s agreement” to submit recommendations to the Central Planning Authority, but the planning body is under no obligation to take those recommendations into account.
This would change under the proposed legislation. Under that bill, the NCC would have the authority to insist on an environmental assessment being done to assist other government bodies – such as Cabinet, Central Planning Authority and Building Control Unit – in making decisions on whether or not to allow certain significant developments. The environmental assessment is meant to determine the impacts that a proposed project would have on the nearby environment, public health and living conditions.
The assessment would have to be paid for by the project applicant and would be performed by a person approved by the council. The results of the assessment would help inform the government’s decision on whether to allow the project to proceed and under what conditions.
George Town Landfill
Candidates will also have to address a very sensitive topic – the George Town Landfill.
In June 2011, the Dart Group announced a major deal with government that would, in addition to other things, lead to the closure, capping and remediation of the George Town Landfill and the creation of a new solid waste management facility in Bodden Town.
The proposed new dump site is in a 110-acre area east of Midland Acres in the District of Bodden Town and is part of the ForCayman Investment Alliance arrangement between the government and Dart. As part of that arrangement, Dart has agreed to close, cap and remediate the existing landfill in George Town and give government the land in Midland Acres on which to build the new waste management site. Under the proposals, Dart will finance the first phase of the facility, which is a lined landfill.
The proposed addition of a dump site in the district has led to considerable opposition among residents of Bodden Town. The Coalition to Keep Bodden Town Dump Free wrote to the UK’s Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds, saying the ForCayman Investment Alliance proposals contravene the tenets of the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility.
They said that in spite of the scope of the public projects involved and the value of Crown land being “swapped”, none of the elements of the deal had been submitted to a tendering process, “none has been independently scrutinised in terms of value for money, and none has been the subject of an independent, objective and unbiased environmental evaluation”, the coalition wrote.
The group went on to refer Simmonds to a letter dated 2 November that he had sent to Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush in which Simmonds said new development projects in Cayman “must be done transparently and properly”, and that major public procurements could be only if “the proper processes have been followed, including by complying with international best practice on procurement.”
They said the proposed closure of the George Town landfill, known locally as Mount Trashmore, and contamination of a new site in the Bodden Town district “are completely unnecessary, motivated only by Dart’s desire to get the dump as far away as possible from its upscale Camana Bay complex, and particularly from a luxury residential project it plans to add, with no regard for the consequences on the environment or on Bodden Town”.
For now, any deals are at a standstill and candidates are sure to be grilled.