National Conservation Bill tabled in assembly

Ten years in the making, the National Conservation Bill, providing protection to Cayman’s endemic species and mandating consideration of the environment in development decisions, has finally been tabled in the Legislative Assembly.

Environment Minister Wayne Panton said Friday that after a decade of drafts, redrafts, revisions and reviews it was time for the conversation to stop and for the bill to be passed into law.

“I am not going to engage in protracted discussions or make protracted amendments at this point given the incredible amount of time that has already been allowed for public discussion. It is time for us to stop talking and get it done,” he said on Rooster FM on Friday.

The bill, presented as a compromise between the wishes of environmentalists and the needs of developers, is available for public review and will be debated by politicians in early December.

Mr. Panton added: “While the bill is not a panacea for all our environmental concerns, it represents an important, essential step in ensuring the long-term conservation of our fragile island ecosystems and native biodiversity.”

A key component is the requirement that the environmental consequences of all national plans, polices, projects and development proposals are considered before decisions are taken. A 13-member National Conservation Council will be established to oversee the bill and carry out a range of functions, including establishing and maintaining protected areas. The law also gives power of arrest to DoE enforcement officers and provides scope for government to draw up protection plans for endangered or endemic species and their habitats. There are a wide range of species found only on the Cayman Islands, from rare varieties of snakes and iguanas to plants like the critically endangered ghost orchid, currently not protected by law. There is also nothing in current legislation to protect large swathes of environmentally important land, including mangroves.

The law has stoked controversy over the years with opponents warning it will take away property owners’ rights and reduce development potential.

Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the department of environment, said the final draft represented a “good compromise.” She said the bill provided a legislative framework that allowed for the management and protection of Cayman’s natural resources.

“This will provide the means for us to do a better job,” she said. “The public sometimes expects us to do things that we are just not able to do because we don’t have the law.

“We don’t see this as giving the DoE too much power. We see this as an awesome responsibility that has been given to us to advocate for environmental protection for the country in an open and transparent way.”

John Bothwell, senior research officer at the DoE, said the council would be a bridge between government and the public, with responsibility for putting the legislation into action. He said the law was essentially “enabling legislation” and the leg work of drawing up management plans for protected species and designating certain areas as “protected” would be carried out by the council, in consultation with the public.

He urged people to read the act and email the DoE with any questions or concerns on [email protected] Mr. Panton said the bill, approved by Cabinet last week, closely resembled an earlier draft produced by the last PPM administration.

“Although the bill is substantially the 2009 version prepared by the former PPM administration, it incorporates recent feedback received from the public, stakeholders, the immediate past government administration, and independent members of the Legislative Assembly’.”

The bill is available on www.doe.ky and www.gov.ky. Hard copies can be obtained at the Department of Environment on North Sound Road, and the Legislative Assembly.

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