Battle lines are being redrawn in the conflict between development and the environment as the government prepares to walk back some of the provisions of Cayman’s National Conservation Law.

The landmark law was one of the first significant pieces of legislation passed by the previous Progressives-led government.

But Premier Alden McLaughlin revealed last week that removing some of its more controversial elements would be among the first actions of his new coalition.

Describing the Environmental Impact Assessment process, particularly in relation to government road development as “ridiculous,” he said the administration was committed to reviewing the legislation.

“My view is we need to swiftly make the necessary amendments to remove these sort of impediments to the proper development of these islands,” he said.

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His comments in a Legislative Assembly debate last week followed on from a commitment in his Strategic Policy Statement to amend the law. He did not say how far the amendments would go and whether the process would be altered for private sector developers as well as for government.

Developers have widely criticized the National Conservation Council’s ability to require that developers and government ministries conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment, at their own expense, before a project can be approved.

The council claims it uses the option judiciously and only for large-scale projects which could seriously impact Cayman’s natural habitats.

In a June letter to the Compass, council president Christine Rose-Smyth said it had recommended only six projects, out of 368 reviewed, for environmental impact assessment.

She declined to comment at this stage on the premier’s comments.

Mr. McLaughlin, in his policy speech, said, “We remain committed to protecting our environment, but we must also ensure that we get the balance right between preserving our environment and the need to responsibly develop our islands to help provide employment and opportunities for our people. We will continue to support the environment, but we cannot ignore some tension that exists between allowing necessary responsible development and protection of our environment – particularly following the passage of the National Conservation Law.”

Referring to advice that every new government road would require some form of EIA, he said this increased the cost and caused delays of necessary infrastructure projects.

He added, “Truth be told this tension has always been there – and perhaps in the past too often development has won over protecting the environment. However, both aims are important and need to co-exist, with Cabinet receiving proper advice and having the ability to mediate or decide in cases where a side must be chosen. And so, we will look again at the National Conservation Law to determine what amendments need to be made to ensure the proper balance is struck.”

The comments, repeated in a later debate about two farm roads in North Side, slated for Environmental Impact Assessments on the advice of the conservation council, were welcomed by the opposition leader, Ezzard Miller.

Mr. Miller, the North Side MLA and a vocal advocate for the two roads, said he would have the full support of the opposition benches.

“I thank the premier for his intervention and give him unconditional support to amend the National Conservation Law.”

News that the law could be amended was also welcomed by developers.

David Moffitt, CEO of Ironwood, a planned golf resort in the eastern districts, said any moves to expedite the road approval process would be welcomed. The developer had proposed a partnership with government to build a 10-mile extension to the East-West Arterial road to help facilitate swifter access to its planned resort.

The National Conservation Council indicated that the road would require an Environmental Impact Assessment. Mr. Moffitt said he hoped a broader relaxation of the regulations on EIAs would follow.

“We are encouraged as I’m sure most people are that the premier understands the need to revisit the recent conservation law. The need for a conservation law is obvious, but to go from no law to a law where nothing is allowed without the consent of one lone body, swung the pendulum from one extreme to the other …

“We would encourage government to make changes to the Conservation Law not just to accommodate government agencies interest, but to include all developers. As the premier stated in his SPS address, ‘the economy is the engine that provides for others,’ and the current NCL strangles the engine.”

Joe Imparato, the developer of the Caribbean Club, said he believed the law needed to be amended to make it compatible with responsible development.

“The application of environmental regulations needs to be done with a strong measure of common sense and practicality and not be used as a method of carte blanche, restricting development,” he said.

“I would recommend that cabinet roll back the regulations such that the Department of Environment are again an advisor to the planning board and not a decision maker in the overall process.”

The conservation council defended the EIA process in a recent letter to the Compass.

Ms. Rose-Smyth wrote, “It should be abundantly clear that the EIA procedure is invoked sparingly, and only when the NCC and DoE agree that there are such significant gaps, in either the technical information available for the assessment of potential impacts, or in the technical expertise available, that additional studies and assessment are required. An EIA decision is therefore never taken frivolously.

“It must always be remembered that an EIA does not make the decision on a project; it is a tool that assists decision makers in making fair, technically sound, transparent and robust decisions, weighing the adverse environmental effects against other considerations such as societal benefits, employment and other economic opportunities.”

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  1. I think that these politicians needs to know that it’s not RIDICULOUS to have a good Environment Conservation Laws . This Law is very important to have in place and enforced properly, but you can’t have everyone injecting their opinion into the Law because it would be none of it left .

    And why isn’t there a long term development plan in place for the Islands ? Why do we need to develop the whole Island today ? Is there any one thinking about the future of the Islands ?
    I believe that there should be a good Environmental Board made of sound honest minded people who love and understands the needs of the Islands and Environmental decision that would have to be made taking the Islands into the future.

    But we shouldn’t allow Developers and Politicians to be involved like how they are in this article .

  2. I’m totally astounded that Mr. Premier is so vehemently intent on revising, “amending” or otherwise changing this very recent piece of legislation which was reviewed, assessed, crafted and passed under the recent administration which he led!! Do the Premier and those Government members who support this proposed move not have any respect for, at the very least, the cost to the public to pay them to enact legislation only to change it within a few months??!! Why didn’t they pass an Environmental Law which fit the bill (pardon the pun) in the first place?! Are they so arrogant as to consider the time spent on preparing and passing the present Law a waste? And indeed it is a waste of public funds, as they are being paid quite handsomely to represent public interests by advancing the country in their work , not reversing. I won’t even bother to question the validity of ex-Environment Minister Wayne Panton’s work and the “support” for a same by his Party leader and Premier. Clearly there is some hypocrisy there!

    It is most disrespectful to the public at large for public resources to be expended in passing legislation, which is then torn apart a few months later by the same crew! Wow! How is this good governance?

  3. “to help provide employment” is the phrase that has become a cliché. Overdevelopment of the island without regard for the environment or building a new cruise pier won’t provide the help needed. Shoving down employer’s throats unskilled people won’t make them skilled either.

    We live in the Information (or Digital) Age.
    Traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization has shifted to an economy based on information computerization. Technology is rapidly changing the way things get done across industries. Keeping up to date on new technologies is not easy for anyone.
    Majority of those who are unemployed and want to work lack basic skills required by the Age of information technology. They need some serious HELP. Almost every job today requires some form of technology skills. They need to be properly trained. They don’t need a new pier or a hotel or an agency that would help them to perform.
    Why is it so hard to understand?
    Every country has some people who are unemployable; their productivity is so low that they cannot keep any job for long and fall back upon public or private charity. They may have some invisible physical or mental disability. They must be properly evaluated and public assistance provided. Why is it so hard to understand?

    Poverty.Inc documentary provides several examples of how ‘offering a product for free can destroy the local economy’ . “A farmer in Rwanda goes out of business because he cannot compete against an American church sending free eggs to feed starving Rwandans. A rice grower in Haiti stops growing rice because he is unable to compete against very cheap rice coming from rich farmers in the US who receive huge subsidies. A local cobbler goes out of business in Africa when TOMS shoes land up in the village and are distributed for free.” (quotes from an article)
    What’s that got to do with the unemployment in the Cayman Islands you may ask? Everything! Encouraging entrepreneurship is the solution.
    Northward prison is already doing just that by enlisting the talent of a craftsman from Guyana to teach inmates the finer points of tanning and leather working.

  4. There is a mountain of evidence that we need more environmental protection on this island; from the acres of destroyed coastal mangroves to the decimated crab population to the near extinction of an iconic reptile. This island has seen countless environmental tragedies over the last 50 years that could have been avoided if we just put a little more thought into our development. There has been zero balance between development and the environment and curiously the premier admits this in the very same speech where he is advocating to strip the island of more environmental protections.
    The conservation council was created in order to restore a bit of that balance and help the government make more informed decisions regarding our future. There were many detractors that warned about an overreaching bureaucracy, but it is now clear that these fears were misguided. By all sensible accounts, their recommendations have been completely rational, transparent, and evidence-based.
    So then why would this government choose to point the finger at the National Conservation Council if they have only been acting in the public’s best interest? It is because otherwise, that finger would be turned around and pointed squarely back at the administration, exactly where the problem lies. We have known about the need for these roads for well over a decade and we have known that they have the potential to affect vast swaths of pristine Cayman forest. So why exactly wasn’t the EIA process started 10 years ago so we could have the data at hand and act hastily in our infrastructure and development projects? Incompetence is the only answer. And as always it is followed by a healthy dose of finger-pointing. Remember this sequence of events. We will be seeing a lot more of it over the next 4 years.