An environmental impact assessment should be carried out before Dart Real Estate is allowed to move beach rock from the shallow coastal waters off Seven Mile Beach, the Department of Environment has advised.
The recommendation comes from a “screening opinion” on Dart’s coastal works application to remove more than 1,000 feet of submerged rock fronting a property where it hopes to build a new five-star hotel.
The document, prepared by the Department of Environment’s technical review committee, also recommends the wider hotel development undergo a similar assessment at the same time.
It states, “Given that the applicant has indicated that the beachrock removal is required for a proposed hotel development, it is recommended that the EIA should cover both the land and coastal elements of the proposed project, as the two are presented by the applicant as being inextricably linked.”
If the recommendation is adopted by the National Conservation Council at its meeting this week, Dart Real Estate will likely be obliged to fund the environmental impact assessment before its plans can be formally considered.
The developer responded Monday, saying its application was informed by more than a year of scientific study, including historical and recent investigations by recognized experts on Grand Cayman’s natural environment.
In a statement in response to questions from the Cayman Compass, it said coastal engineering consultants, hired by Dart, had found the impact of removing beach rock on the rest of Seven Mile Beach would likely be minimal.
It did not say whether or not it supported the call for an Environmental Impact Assessment, but stated, “Dart Real Estate both wants and welcomes an independent third party review of our consultants’ findings on coastline impact.”
A key concern cited by environment officials is the potential for the removal of beach rock to cause erosion along Seven Mile Beach.
In its March 2 screening opinion, published with the agenda papers to next week’s meeting, it writes: “Given the complexity of the coastal processes along Seven Mile Beach, and the economic value of the beach (not only to tourism, but also culture and recreation), the potential risks associated with substantial shoreline modification are high, and the works will likely result in an irreversible action being undertaken.
“As such, it needs to be considered within the context of a comprehensively and robustly scoped coastal engineering report that objectively evaluates the impact of the proposed works and complies with the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. This evaluation should focus not only on the immediate locale but also the wider context of the Seven Mile Beach coastal system.”
In its advice to the conservation council, the Department of Environment indicates that the report submitted by Dart in support of its application by Coastal Engineers from Calvin, Giordano & Associates and Applied Technology & Management, does not go far enough and does not meet the independent criteria or include the public feedback elements that would be part of an EIA.
“The applicant has provided a series of documents in support of the Coastal Works Application which have not been scoped with the DoE or members of the Environmental Assessment Board which will be appointed,” according to the document.
It states that the formal EIA process is designed to ensure that consultants carrying out such assessments are independently vetted and appointed. It also includes a rigorous process, involving consultation with government agencies and the public, before the terms of reference of the assessment are established.
The report indicates that Dart’s documents could be useful in helping frame the scope of the EIA but do not serve as a replacement for the process.
Alongside concerns about beach erosion, environment officials raise concerns about loss of marine life that use the rocks as habitat and the socio-economic impact of a lost resource.
It states, “The beachrock in this location attracts fishermen, snorkelers and beach goers for various reasons. Snorkelers benefit from easy access to a diverse array of fish and coral not typically present in the purely sandy areas of Seven Mile Beach. This area has not been appropriately addressed in any of the applicant’s supporting documentation and requires further exploration, as part of an EIA which will include public consultation.”
In its application, Dart indicated the beach rock removal was required to create a safe beach entry for guests of a planned new hotel.
The developer says the hotel project is contingent on the coastal works application and appeared to reject suggestions that an EIA could be carried out on both elements of the development at the same time.
Dart said in a statement that the plans for the 225-room, 80-residence development were at the “conceptual stage” and would only be finalized, pending the outcome of the coastal works application.
It added, “Dart Real Estate approaches the prospect of beachrock removal with extreme care, working to balance the desire to preserve the natural asset of the beach to the greatest extent possible while making it more usable for all beachgoers and suitable for a resort development project representing more than US$600 million in economic impact for the Cayman Islands.
“We are deeply invested in the protection of the coastline for residents and visitors, and we have much at stake in the consideration of beachrock removal. We are committed to responsible, sustainable development and the need to balance economic opportunity with environmental management.”