Stacked vehicles along the road ‘look terrible,’ minister says
Junked vehicles, stacked alongside the road, on top of each other and on top of shipping containers, lining a section of Seymour Drive in George Town have been reported as a public health nuisance, according to public health officials and government ministers.
Two private operators renting space in the area have set up shop on opposite sides of Seymour Drive and run what amounts to junkyards, Department of Environmental Health Director Roydell Carter said Monday.
Mr. Carter said his officers removed a number of vehicles from the location last year “because some of them were blocking the road and it was unsafe.” Yet the problem persisted and eventually the department had to issue what’s known as an abatement notice under the Cayman Islands Public Health Law last summer.
Not much has happened since, Mr. Carter said, adding it is his view that the abatement notice was basically ignored by the operators. The Caymanian Compass sought comment about the matter from both the landowner and the junkyard operators, but there was no response by press time.
Mr. Carter said the department has applied for an abatement order from the court, seeking a remedy for the situation.
“One of the drawbacks of this law is that it is such a long, drawn-out process,” he said.
The Public Health Law allows the Department of Environmental Health chief officer, or the medical officer of health, to seek abatement orders from the court for a number of public health nuisances, including derelict vehicles, if an initial abatement notice is ignored. If the court order is not followed within a certain time frame, the director or medical officer then has to go back to the court to seek criminal prosecution.
The problem, according to Mr. Carter, is that by the time the issue gets to court, the junkyard operators have caught wind of it and moved to another location.
“Really, that’s what is happening, to get them off the property, we had to go to court,” Mr. Carter said. “This is ridiculous.”
Mr. Carter said he’s lobbying government ministers for a separate piece of legislation, a revamped Environmental Health Law, under which abatement notices could be served in the same way as a traffic ticket, requiring an immediate appearance in court. Right now, Mr. Carter said, getting a criminal prosecution takes at least six months to a year, if not longer, under the Public Health Law.
The problem has also been a thorny one for neglected houses.
Bodden Town representative and Environmental Health Minister Osbourne Bodden said last year that it had been a slow process getting the “Ivanised” homes – as he calls them – in his district knocked down. There are still a handful of derelict homes on prime beachfront property that have not been touched since 2004.
Mr. Bodden said there has been difficulty with the Cayman Islands Planning Law and regulations for more than a decade.
“The problem is that we don’t have minimum property standards,” Mr. Bodden said. “We don’t have anything to force owners [to clean up or maintain their properties]; we can only encourage them.”
The issue was brought before the Legislative Assembly in early 2007 by Mr. Bodden, then a backbench member. He said at the time that if an owner did not wish to fix or maintain a property, there was little the government could do under the law.
The process at that time involved abatement notices that could lead to court action. However, even if a property owner was convicted, the penalty amounted to a $200 initial fine and $10 per day if the offense continued. Since then, penalties against derelict property owners have changed. Under the Development and Planning Law 2010, fines for derelict properties are $5,000 per day from the date an abatement notice is given, or $25,000 per day in a hotel-tourism designated zone.
Still, he said, going to court is difficult and time-consuming.
“Sometimes it’s not even a building, it can be a case of a really overgrown property in the middle of a nice development. You have to be able to say to the owners, ‘If you don’t keep the place looking nice, you’re going to face the penalty.’ I think it’s only fair.”