Ministry, green groups support conservation bill

The National Trust of the Cayman Islands has joined Cayman’s first independent environmental group, Sustainable Cayman, to support the National Conservation Bill, saying the decade-old legislation balances development and conservation priorities.

In statements released almost simultaneously, the National Trust and Sustainable Cayman say that after a decade of consultation and changes, the proposed bill is uniquely tailored to the Cayman Islands, addressing the concerns of developers and landowners on the one hand, and the need to preserve a fragile, bankable environment on the other.

On Monday, the Ministry of Financial Services, Commerce and Environment also released a statement pointing to the benefits in the new bill, and challenging “misinformation” promulgated by “opponents to any” environmental protection legislation.

“Under the proposed law, only Crown land can be designated as a protected area. Suggestions can be made to designate private land protected, but that could only occur if the landowner agrees,” the release said.

“Either the landowner could sell the parcel to government at a fair market value or the landowner could agree to manage the conservation area, receiving a stipend to do so from government.”

Before any land, whether public or private, is designated a protected area, however, extensive public consultation and Cabinet approval are required, the release said, quoting Minister Wayne Panton.

“These will not be decisions that are simply made by Cabinet. They will be based on input and recommendations from a broad range of people,” he said. “There’s no power to take somebody’s land. There are a number of very important issues that are being articulated by people who aren’t being completely honest or accurate.”

The National Trust, meanwhile, said the changes made to the bill in the last decade had “address[ed] the major concerns which have been raised.”

“Whilst there have been compromises on some of the environmental components, the trust believes that this bill is a major step towards strengthening the national environmental policy,” said the statement, under the name of Executive Director Christina Pineda.

“The National Conservation Law will complement the trust’s ongoing environmental conservation work. This is based on the widely accepted principle that the most effective way to protect biodiversity is to protect its habitat.”

Sustainable Cayman, formed in mid-October by Katrina Jurn, Searlina Bodden, Sandy Urquhart and Laura Richardson, said the conservation bill and the issues it raises are long overdue: “We are at a pivotal point for Cayman’s natural environment. It is high time we stop turning away from the environment’s value to our country’s quality of life, our economy and ultimately, the future prosperity of the country.

“Over the last 10 years of amendments to the National Conservation Law, more and more power has been taken away from the Environmental Council and … has been vested in Cabinet,” said Ms Jurn, who holds a PhD in Environmental and Economic Sociology from Cambridge.

“Almost every decision under the NCL must get Cabinet approval,” she said, responding to worries that the council would have the power to halt development.

The 13-member National Conservation Council, explained Minister Panton, had been divested of much of the power granted in the original draft. The group’s new role will simply be to join the Department of Environment as Cabinet adviser.

“The council itself will not have broad ranging powers to make decisions,” Mr. Panton said. “It will only give advice, for example, to the Planning Department. That advice must be considered or it can be ignored. Obviously, if it is ignored, it is at our own peril. And clearly I am not suggesting that it should be; I say it could be ignored to highlight the fact that the council cannot dictate the outcome on 99 percent of the decisions.

“The limited circumstances under which the council’s views must be followed, i.e. it can dictate the outcome of a decision, is when the proposal involves a potential impact on a valuable protected area,” he said.

“For example, you would expect if somebody was going to do something next to Stingray City, that the council should be able to say ‘no.’ Stingray City is too important an asset to this country.”

Ms Jurn said the bill had achieved a long-sought balance: “The entire reason this law has been in draft for more than 10 years is because it was intended to be a developmentally balanced piece of legislation, which takes into account the costs and processes of development,” she said.

“Furthermore, development control and all planning approvals remain in the hands of the current planning-approval structure,” she said, naming the Central Planning Authority and others.

“The National Conservation Law only requires these bodies to take into consideration the environmental impact of their decisions and seek input from the [National Conservation] Council.

“This may not seem strong enough to many. However, it’s a lot better than what we currently have: There is no legal obligation for the CPA to take environmental impacts into consideration and they therefore often do not – although they do often already voluntarily seek the input of the DoE,” Ms Jurn said.

Mr. Panton agreed: “The bill is a compromise; it allows for conservation and development to co-exist. That is what sustainable development is all about. Otherwise, we lose our identity. Once we’ve lost that, what are we? Once we’ve lost what we had, how do you put a price on that? Our children are the ones we have to be thinking about. It is our intention to protect and defend the environment.”

Ms Jurn and Sustainable Cayman said they understood the opposition to the bill, but indicated it was based on “generalizations and lack of education on the actual functions of the law.”

“Most of the myths that are circulating about the NCL are completely unfounded,” she said, rejecting suggestions that it would bring development “to a grinding halt” or the government “will be able to take away my land if it has protected species on it.

“We also recognise that land ownership is a very sensitive issue for many Caymanians,” she said, pointing to “numerous families who are counting on being able to develop their land in the future to ensure that their families will be well taken care of.”

Finally, she said, listing some of the public fears, “no one’s land will become ‘sterilized’, no one’s land will be confiscated by the government and restrictions will not be imposed on landowners that will prevent them from developing their land.”

The ministry announced a series of public meetings, featuring Minister Panton and representatives from the Department of Environment, beginning Dec. 2 throughout the districts, and promised a schedule by next week.

The ministry announced a series of public meetings, featuring Minister Panton and representatives from the Department of Environment, beginning Dec. 2 throughout the districts, and promised a schedule by next week.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The bill is a compromise; it allows for conservation and development to co-exist. That is what sustainable development is all about. Otherwise, we lose our identity. Once we’ve lost that, what are we? Once we’ve lost what we had, how do you put a price on that? Our children are the ones we have to be thinking about. It is our intention to protect and defend the environment.
    I’m confused are you saying that after 40 years of fighting against people who bought land in the swamp built their houses and businesses that we need a pro environmentalist council ? I think that a fairer way of doing business would be to have half for and half against ? I don’t want to be left to a group that is all conservation. Their prime target is the swamp not stingray city. Thats why its called green group. If I can’t sell my property to a investor who wants to make a car garage or welding shop, residential lots or a golf course or maybe a quarry then who is going to buy my property ? What reason would you buy my property ? To look at it ? No tourist has ever asked me to look at swamp. For what mosquitoes ? That was the reason that cruise lines didn’t stay past 4pm. mosquitoes. We need to understand that if the central mangrove is bought cheaper by gov’t to transfer to crown land . All the other reclaimed swamp land will go up. Its just economics , supply and demand.
    If the council or Gov’t would spell out exactly what you would approve or disapprove before you create this new law by next week that we could understand completely what we are getting into. Also how much time its going to take to present an approval for a development? So that people who are selling are not waiting 6-12 months. When people sell a property the buyer or investor will check if they can get approval . Why can’t we have a list instead of a council?? Isn’t that what they are doing or are they just stalling so that the investor or buyer changes their mind.

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  2. It’s amazing how NO MENTION of the extreme measures of warrant less arrests, searches and seizures are NOT mentioned in their statement.

    You can gloss it over it, all you want but protecting the environment does NOT and SHOULD NOT be at the expense of legal human rights.

    We can have this law enacted without giving in to the bullying tactics of the so called we know best crowd. We must have this law amended to eliminate to violation of peoples personage by Agents of the Environment.

    Once this law is passed, it is only a matter of minutes as you can see before the Police Dept and other so called enforcement agencies on the Islands seek Special Powers to search, arrest and seize without warrants.

    This is a blatant violation of your human rights!!

    Put that in the context of people being wiretapped without a judges consent…you are a foot step away from having a full slide into a communist state.

    We are already exhibiting signs of being the most laughed at BANANA REPUBLIC on the block, this will just push it over the edge.

    Don’t let Paradise become your prison, speak up now, or they will hold your PEACE FOREVER!!

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