Both writers state categorically that the bill will not affect private landowners or their property.
First, Mr. Panton: “There is absolutely nothing in the proposed legislation that lets government take people’s land to make protected areas, not even for private land adjoining government land that gets made into a protected area — NONE. There is absolutely nothing in this bill that gives government the power to prohibit people from altering, developing or using their own land.”
Next, Ms Reid: “ … the bill does not impose any restrictions on private land owners nor does it grant the government any power to interfere with land held privately. On the contrary, the bill is designed to protect environmentally significant Crown land. In fact, under the bill, any participation by private land owners to conserve their land is completely voluntary and not an obligation.”
If true — and more on that in a moment — why pass a bill in the first instance if it doesn’t apply to private land? Approximately 94 percent of all land in Grand Cayman is privately held. Are the bill’s supporters not aware of this?
Let’s pose two scenarios that will put Mr. Panton’s and Ms Reid’s proclamations into perspective:
A Caymanian landowner wishes to clear his land, which has been in his family for generations. He has received a generous offer from a developer who plans to pave the property to put in a helipad complex. However, the land is populated not only with indigenous Caymanian flora, including silver thatch, ghost orchids and ironwood trees, but also with a menagerie of protected green parrots, blue iguanas, and an assortment of other species. Will the proposed legislation affect this transaction? Mr. Panton and Ms Reid say no.
A businessman who has purchased hundreds of acres years ago now wishes to develop a seaport in the district of East End. The developer discovers that his land has become home to any number of indigenous and protected plants, snakes, reptiles … whatever. Can he move forward without interference from the National Conservation Council, Department of Environment and Cabinet? Both Mr. Panton and Ms Reid say yes.
Disturbingly, we cannot recall any acknowledgement from Mr. Panton, the Department of the Environment, or the National Trust (other than today’s letters) that perhaps 94 percent of Grand Cayman will not be covered by the bill.
But what does the proposed law say?
Sections of the bill appear to address environmental matters regardless of who owns the land.
For example, the bill allows the Council to issue permits exempting people from provisions of the law. The bill differentiates between permits “authorizing an activity in a protected area” and permits “authorizing an activity with regard to a protected species or its critical habitat …”
If the bill only applies to Crown land, then why the distinction?
According to the bill, the Council can order developers to conduct environmental impact assessments, at the developers’ expense, before they’re allowed to undertake projects.
Why would this be the case if the bill affects only Crown land?
Let us be perfectly clear: We support personal property rights over any incursion by government on behalf of any animal species. If, as Mr. Panton and Ms Reid say, the bill does not give the government the power to interfere with private property — or development — for the sake of saving the environment, then we’re satisfied.
But we suspect many proponents of the bill will not be.