It took nearly two months, but last week the Cayman Islands government finally got around to publishing the final draft of the National Conservation Law that legislators rewrote and passed amid a flurry of amendments shortly before adjourning for the Christmas break.
Now a plethora of pressing issues will put the new National Conservation Council to the test, perhaps sooner than contemplated.
From the Head of Barkers to Colliers, and from Bloody Bay to the Bluff, there are opportunities for the Council to play an important role in protecting pristine Crown land, while at the same time avoiding temptations to impede positive development for little good cause.
Perhaps even more so than private initiatives, public projects will reveal the Council’s mettle and Cabinet’s resolve to see that the new law is applied with integrity and without zealotry or bias.
However, before the Council can even become operational, much groundwork remains to be done, including creating the all-important regulations and appointing the Council itself.
Here’s a sampling of what could be waiting on the Council’s table when it eventually convenes:
- The so-called Barkers National Park
- Overcrowding at Stingray City
- Discharges into the North Sound
- George Town cruise berthing plans
- Expansion of the Owen Roberts International Airport
- The East-West Arterial extension cutting through the National Trust’s Mastic Trail Reserve
- The proposed Ironwood development verging on the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park
- Rapid development of the eastern half of Grand Cayman, spearheaded by Cayman Health City
- Large-scale clearing of Little Cayman habitat for residential subdivisions (as now unpopulated)
- Dredging of the Salt Water Pond on Cayman Brac, which lawmakers stripped of its protected status in November 2012
Also, the Council will have to deal with the myriad of aquatic, avian and terrestrial life forms that may or may not have been protected under past laws.
However, it is obvious that the chief environmental concern of the Council and the government must be the George Town landfill, which this week again burst into flames.
It is our reading of the new law that the dump, as a major source of pollution in the North Sound, falls well within the Council’s remit.
If the Council is to be perceived as a legitimate organization — and not as yet another politically selected and philosophically homogeneous assortment of appointees — it must not give the government the latitude to ignore the environmental damage caused by the dump while at the same time burdening responsible private developers with paperwork and fees.
To date, the government has demonstrated a much greater appetite for optics (the Conservation Law) than substance (the dump). Very shortly, legislators, the Council, and the new law will be put to some very tough tests.