Powers of conservation council exaggerated

At Sustainable Cayman, we have purposefully taken our time to review the above mentioned editorial, before posting a response.

We take our role as proponents of the law very seriously, and as such, made further careful research of the law’s text before responding.

We believe it is important that all influential voices in the community look carefully at and understand the National Conservation Bill and not simply pass judgment based on a superficial reading of the Bill or hearsay.

Please allow us space in your publication to address two issues in your editorial of Nov. 26.

1. Minister Panton and the Department of Environment have stated that the only instance in which the National Conservation Council has any decision-making power is in relation to protected areas.

This is the section of the law on which you focus in your editorial:

“Every entity in Government “shall apply for and obtain the approval of the Council” before taking any action “that would or would be likely to have an adverse effect, whether directly or indirectly, on a protected area or on the critical habitat of a protected species.” (Section 41.4)

However, you suggest that this is problematic and gives the Council far-reaching powers. Why should the National Conservation Council not have decision-making power over protected areas that are Crown land and have further gone through public consultation and achieved Cabinet approval? As your subsequent editorial has pointed out, Crown land currently accounts for only 6 percent of the landmass of the Cayman Islands.

Similarly, for an area to be designated a “critical habitat” of a protected species, the conservation plan for that species would identify the critical habitats.

All conservation plans and any conservation plan that would identify a “critical habitat” would also have to both go out for public consultation and achieve Cabinet approval.

It is therefore unlikely that any unwilling landowner would have a critical habitat designation forced on their land. Most critical habitat designations will be in Crown-owned protected areas or on private land where the landowner does not oppose the designation.

2. In referring to Section 42.2 (a) you state:

“The Council can also demand bonds or fees from developers and mandate inspections of projects to ensure its orders are being followed. The legislation explicitly states that “the Central Planning Authority or the Development Control Board shall not issue a certificate of completion” until the Council is satisfied.”

Again you suggest that this is a wide-ranging power.

However, the law is also clear that Section 42 applies ONLY to applications that affect protected areas or critical habitat of protected species.

Furthermore, the law also makes it quite clear that all decisions taken by the Council can be appealed to Cabinet.

We plead with you as a partner in the Cayman community, and as a member of the national press, to carefully read the law before using your considerable influence to oppose it.

Katrina Jurn, on behalf of Sustainable Cayman