The National Conservation Council voted Wednesday to require an environmental impact assessment before developer Dart Real Estate is permitted to remove beach rock from the waters off Seven Mile Beach.
The council unanimously approved a recommendation from the Department of Environment that the project undergo an independent assessment. The DoE had highlighted concerns that removing the rock would be an irreversible action that could cause erosion along the beach.
Dart says the excavation of the rocks is necessary to create a sandy beach entry for guests of a planned five-star resort on the site, north of the Kimpton resort.
Representatives for the developer were at Wednesday’s meeting to observe proceedings, but had no comment after the decision. Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the DoE, gave a presentation to the council on the application Wednesday, saying the planned excavation, inside a marine park, required a full independent assessment of the risks.
In a screening opinion, part of the agenda papers for the meeting, the DoE’s technical review committee advised: “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.”
The council was also read extracts of a letter from Kenneth Hydes of Dart Real Estate requesting that the work the developer’s consultants had already done be considered as part of any EIA.
Dart submitted a report from a coastal engineering company with the coastal works application that concluded the effects on the coastline would be minimal.
Mr. Hydes also raised concerns that the DoE’s recommendation was for a simultaneous assessment to be conducted on the planned hotel development as part of the same EIA. The developer indicated that there were no concrete plans in place, at this stage, for the land-side development, which would make an EIA on that element impractical at this point. A deal for the hotel project involving a five-star operator is believed to be contingent on the shoreline modifications.
Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said that the work of Dart’s consultants would be considered during the “scoping” process which would outline the terms of reference for the environmental impact assessment and could go toward the broader study, if they met the required criteria.
Christine Rose-Smyth, chairwoman of the National Conservation Council, indicated that the recommendation that a simultaneous EIA take place on the land-side development would be something that could be negotiated with the developer as the terms of reference for the assessment are outlined.
The next step is for Dart to indicate if it wishes to proceed with the project. At that point, an Environmental Assessment Board would be convened and public consultation would take place to outline the terms of the study.
The EIA, once complete, would be used to inform the council’s advice to Cabinet on whether the coastal works application should be granted. Cabinet can weigh that advice, alongside other considerations including the mooted economic impact of the project, before making its decision.