Conservation Bill: A 6 percent solution?

Supporters of the National Conservation Bill will take little comfort from two letters we publish today (opposite), one from Environmental Minister Wayne Panton, the other from Carla Reid, chairperson of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.

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.


  1. Soldier crabs in need of shells. Anyone harvesting whelks, it would be helpful if the shells are thrown in the bush instead of sending them to the dump. I put out coconut for the crabs, and some of the things they are using for shells are unbelievable. I searched the beaches for shells, the few I found and put out was gone in a few days, left behind shell remnants. Question; What do government land, national bird rookery, and a race track have in common?

  2. As promised the Compass continues to rail against the national Conservation Bill. The reason seems to be in defense of individual property rights. So far, it has been content that this position is self-evident and no explanation or reasoned argument for it necessary. It is a curious position and one wonders why the Compass is untroubled by all the other existing infringements and qualifications on property rights here in the Cayman Islands? Today’s editorial presents hypothetical scenarios as to how Government, under the Law, could interfere and infringe on an individual’s rights. I’ll save the Compass the trouble of conjuring up hypotheticals and confirm that my family land was subject to not simply restriction of use but seizure by Government under eminent domain for the purpose of constructing a road. No compensation was deemed required. If the Compass position is that property rights are absolute and must be maintained above all, then it is ignorant of the facts that now exist. If it accepts the current infringements, restrictions, and qualifications of property rights, then why object to qualifications relating to environmental and conservation considerations? Why draw the line in the sand here? Without a reasoned explanation and compelling argument for this, the Compass just looks more foolish each day.

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