Supporters of the National Conservation Bill would have you believe the legislation is a compromise between environmental protection and economic development.
In a good compromise, there’s something for everyone to like. In a bad compromise, there’s something for everyone to hate. In the National Conservation Bill, nearly everybody should hate nearly everything about it.
The bill neither guarantees the protection of the environment nor does it provide assurance for Cayman Islands landowners and developers.
If you take Environment Minister Wayne Panton at his word, the bill will protect habitat or species only on Crown land — the 6 percent of Grand Cayman that is already under the government’s control. That’s not just the equivalent of “pocket change”; it’s change that be found under the cushions of most sofas. The bill’s supporters should be outraged. It’s not that they’ve been sold short. They’ve been sold out.
On the other hand, the text of the bill itself appears to empower the National Conservation Council — with Cabinet’s approval — to create and enforce species management plans that could impede or stop development, regardless of who owns the land.
According to the Department of Environment’s explanations (which have been consistent over the years), the law does indeed allow the Council to veto actions by other government entities that might have a harmful impact on “a protected area or on the critical habitat of a protected species.”
While a “protected area” would by definition be land under the Crown’s control, a “critical habitat” would be defined by a species management plan and could include private land.
Bill supporters who admit this possibility go on to say that Cabinet approves species management plans and certainly would not overrule landowners’ objections. Sure.
If Mr. Panton is correct, and the bill is not intended to impact private property, then why doesn’t he put explicit language into the bill that says exactly that? May we suggest he insert his own words from his letter to the Caymanian Compass: “There is absolutely nothing in this bill that gives government the power to prohibit people from altering, developing or using their own land.”
The reason we believe Mr. Panton will never include such unequivocal language is that he is trying to have it both ways: His public posture is that the bill won’t touch private land, while his legislative language says something quite different. It gives government far-reaching control over private property owners’ ability to do what they wish with their land. Every Cayman landowner should oppose this bill AND any legislator who votes for it.
In today’s newspaper we have printed the entire text of the National Conservation Bill in the form of a 12-page supplement.
Most people have never had the opportunity, or felt the need, to read an entire piece of legislation. (At times we wish we could count ourselves among them.)
It’s one thing for a bill to be a turkey (how appropriate that these words will appear on the U.S.’s Thanksgiving Day), but this particular bill is so filled with stuffing — especially obfuscatory legalese — that it is almost impossible to digest. Nevertheless, our most indefatigable readers may still ferret out some gems. Our personal favorites are the snails — which came in first with 87 protected species, followed by the beetles with 25 among their ranks.
We agree with Mr. Panton when he calls on people to attend the district public meetings, which begin on Monday. Don’t be afraid to speak up, but come armed with your own knowledge — and your own bug spray.