Developers will be required to carry out Environmental Impact Assessments before proceeding with a project if the new National Conservation Council deems it necessary.
The Department of Environment, on behalf of the council, will screen a wide variety of applications — ranging from simple subdivisions of land to large-scale tourism developments — and make a recommendation to the council on whether an EIA will be required.
The council will then have the power to compel developers to pay for an independent study on the potential impacts of their project, withdraw their application, or appeal to Cabinet.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the DoE, said the new powers, through the National Conservation Law, would not be a time-consuming or particularly costly barrier to development.
She said such studies typically are less than 0.1 percent of the overall cost of a development.
Even the large-scale environmental study currently under way on government’s plan to develop a $200 million cruise port in George Town harbor, for example, cost $1 million, she said.
Nearly half of that was dedicated to traffic studies, which would not typically be required of most developers, she added.
The DoE’s technical review committee, which already reviews applications on a less formal basis, recommended just five EIAs in the past year, Ms. Ebanks-Petrie told the first meeting of the new council last week.
The details of how the new laws around EIAs will be implemented in practice are outlined in “drafting instructions for EIA regulations” to be approved by Cabinet to accompany the new law when it is fully implemented.
Currently, the Department of Environment can recommend to Cabinet or the Central Planning Authority that environmental impact assessments be undertaken. But they have no binding power if either body chooses to ignore that advice.
Large-scale government projects, such as the port, the airport and the waste management facility, however, already require EIAs under the U.K.’s Framework for Fiscal Responsibility.
Other developers, such as Dart Realty and more recently, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion International LLC, have voluntarily undertaken such assessments on planned projects. Some financiers, including the World Bank, insist that such studies are carried out as a condition of lending.
The difference, once the new legislation comes into force in the Cayman Islands, is that the decision will lie with the National Conservation Council rather than the developer or their backers.
The Department of Environment will have the authority to review all applications on a long schedule of activities, including agriculture on land greater than an acre, coastal works, new hotels, large residential developments, energy generation and marine dredging projects.
Guidelines for the implementation of the new National Conservation Law, once approved by Cabinet, will make the new conservation council the decision-making authority on whether an EIA is required.
DoE officers will screen any application on the schedule against a list of criteria, including the size of the development, its location and the magnitude of the potential impact.
The DoE will have three weeks from the referral of an application to issue its opinion on whether an EIA is necessary, The council will be responsible for notifying the originating authority, for example the Central Planning Authority in the case of development applications.
The applicant has 28 days to indicate if they wish to appeal, proceed with the EIA or withdraw. An Environmental Assessment Board, including the directors of the environment and planning, will then have a month to issue a “scoping opinion” identifying the likely environmental impacts that will need to be assessed and the technical competencies that the consultants will require. The applicant is then required to submit the details of the consultancy firm or firms it wishes to use for approval.
The consultants and the EAB then draw up terms of reference for the study, which are finalized following a public consultation process.
The Environmental Impact Assessment then takes place with the consultants producing a statement detailing the likely impacts and a management plan detailing if and how they can be mitigated. Either the applicant or the EAB can ask for a third party review of the findings.
Once the environmental statement has been produced, the EAB can make a recommendation to the council on whether the application should be approved.
In most cases the authority — usually Cabinet, the CPA or the Development Control Board — will be required to consider the council’s opinion, but won’t be bound by it.
In the case of protected areas or the habitat of protected species — zones considered of critical importance to the environment — the council’s recommendation will have binding power. Those zones, envisioned by the National Conservation Law, have yet to be established.