Turtle data in marina row disputed

Dilbert: Emails show DOE misled Cabinet

Leaked emails between a Department of Environment officer and a volunteer suggest officials included information in a report on the Alexander Hotel’s planned marina project without knowing if it was correct, according to the hotel’s owner.

Hotelier Cleveland Dilbert obtained an email exchange between deputy director Tim Austin and Bonnie Scott, a volunteer who helps locate turtle nests in Cayman Brac.

In the emails, dated March 4, Mr. Austin queries whether there are any turtle nests in the vicinity of the planned marina.

The Department of Environment’s report on the project, signed by Mr. Austin and pre-dating the email exchange, states unequivocally that, “the works will require the removal of active turtle nesting beach.”

Mr. Dilbert says the emails show the Department of Environment included misleading information in its report, suggesting the department was biased against his project.

The DoE says this is simply not true. Mr. Austin acknowledged a “poor choice of words” in the emails. But he insists he was trying to establish whether Ms. Scott was personally aware of whether precise GPS data – which had been requested by the Dilberts – existed for turtle nests in the area.

He said the comments about turtle nesting, based on more general data, were a very minor part of the review compared with a long list of other concerns which led the department to advise that the project was “demonstrably damaging to the environment.”

Mr. Dilbert believes the emails call into question the credibility of the entire report, which was used by Cabinet to justify requiring him to conduct an environmental impact assessment.

He believes he has been treated unfairly in comparison with two other marina projects which were approved for coastal works licenses by Cabinet without an environmental impact assessment.

He says one of the other marinas – both of which are planned by developer Mirjana Mirjanic – is much closer to known turtle nesting beaches than his project, which is on a rocky shore that he says has never been known for nesting.

He acknowledged that the turtle nest issue was not a large part of the report, but said the emails clearly showed that the Department of Environment was against his project and was willing to falsify information to block it.

In an email to Mr. Austin, seen by the Cayman Compass, Ms. Scott, the turtle program coordinator on the Brac, writes, “He (hotel manager Tim Dilbert) wants data from me on all turtle nests found, GPS coordinates. I have this data but I really hate cooperating with him FOR the marina.”

In his response, Mr. Austin says, “He claims no one has seen a nest in the area. Are you aware of turtle nests in the beach vicinity of Salt Water Pond? I hope so.”

He goes on to say that it would be okay to provide the data for nests a mile either side of the project but suggests an “approximate map of active nesting beaches is probably more appropriate.” According to the Dilberts, no data was ever sent.

In his email, Mr. Austin adds, “Can you let me know as soon as possible if there are any nests in the vicinity?”

In response to questions about the exchange from the Compass on Thursday, Mr. Austin said work for the Dilbert project would remove beach habitat where turtles could nest – even if the department did not have enough long-term data for the Brac for this to be indicated through precise GPS data.

He said there was enough other evidence of a potential threat to turtle nesting to justify the reference, which he said had been a very minor part of the review, included based on the ‘precautionary principle.”

“In my emails with her I am asking if she personally is aware of specific nests in the vicinity of Salt Water Pond that she might have recorded with GPS data – she is the turtle program coordinator and so would have this data, or so I hoped.

“The reference to ‘I hope so’ stems from the fact that the Brac data sets have been sporadic in the past as to what was recorded as Bonnie has not always had a GPS for accurate position data.”

Mr. Dilbert says the emails show a clear bias against his project. He says he is willing to do an environmental impact assessment but wants answers on why two other marinas are not being required to do so – despite a resolution in the Legislative Assembly that the Dilberts project and all others get the same treatment.

“These emails show they blatantly misled Cabinet and that’s what caused them to make the wrong decision.

“My position is that all these projects have not been treated equally. If mine requires an EIA, the others should as well. If the others don’t then mine shouldn’t either.”

Environment Minister Wayne Panton has said previously that the Dilberts project is on a much larger scale than the others.

Damien Dilbert, Cleveland’s son, said the emails showed a clear bias that called into question the credibility of the entire report.

He said the coastal works applications awarded to the two other marina projects should be rescinded and each of the applications reconsidered under the auspices of the new Brac environmental oversight board, which is in the process of being established following the resolution in the Legislative Assembly. He said the award of coastal works licenses to two other projects went against the resolution passed in the Assembly.

Mr. Austin said turtle nesting had received “exactly one line of text” in the DoE’s coastal works review and was a minor, though still justifiable, part of the report. He said issues such as loss of marine resources, sedimentation and water quality impacts, coastal vulnerability and flooding were the principal reasons for the DoE’s recommendation that the application be rejected.

“To suggest a minor detail like this is evidence of corruption or some kind of bias against the project and throws the whole review into question is verging on ridiculous,” Mr. Austin said. “My name is on the review but it’s a collaborative effort by the Technical Review Committee and I am not at liberty to add my own agenda without it being subject to questions within the DOE’s final review of the document. Turtle nesting was identified as a legitimate impact and so included.”

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7 COMMENTS

  1. So sad , we want to do the right thing (save the environment) but for some unknown reason people are just not part of the environment. Why can’t this project be treated the same as the rest. We know that the pond stinks and that the hotel has lost guests. We know that no one likes mosquitoes. Trip advisor has complaints that the pond should be dredged because of the smell. People like the hotel, so why not dredged it out. Lets try to fix the problem. It would be very sad to see the hotel just stay close and become a derelict building.

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  2. Sorry to Say this does make things sound a little fishy, She obviously doesn’t want the marina to go there nor does Mr Austin. And there is reason to believe they are biased against the idea.

    What is it about the salt pond that so many people love?

    Not saying that the marina should be built, but I do think something should be done about the pond. Maybe just a huge pipe under the road to let fresh water in and out. It would be cool to start scuba tour from a clean Salt Water pond and swim through a tunnel out to the reef..

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  3. What is the local scuttlebutt, I doubt the environmental department staff have any personal grudges, or conflict of interest except for protection. In my humble opinion I would err to the benefit of the turtles. But if you look deep enough, people usually err to the benefit of their pockets.

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  4. Question, is it just the marina that everyone on the Brac is opposing or do you feel that the pond should be left as it is because of some ecological significance to the island ?

    I can understand the gripe about cutting across the reef, but are brac’rs also against other means of cleaning it up. I hear a lot of people saying things like the pond was there before the hotel, so I am trying to understand the significance of the fight to protect the pond is is considered a part of Cayman Brac’s heritage.

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  5. It may be me but it doesn’t seem like anyone can answer the question of what the environmental or cultural significance of the Salt Pond is. I am trying to understand what the reasons are that people want it left alone.

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  6. Curious, Looking the Map and the way it will cut across the road, does anyone know what his plans were for road access was he planning on building a bridge or rerouting the road ? If so how was the road to be rerouted?

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