After approving plans in May to build an $800,000 commercial poultry farm in East End, on Wednesday the Central Planning Authority refused similar plans to build the same farm on a different piece of land – despite the new land being farther away from fresh groundwater that was at risk of being contaminated under the original plans.
The refusal came after a contentious public planning meeting on Wednesday, where nearby residents objected to the development for the potential noise, smell and pollution they said it may bring. The objections included allegations of conflicting interests and “possibly even corruption” made by East End opposition legislator Arden McLean, who said the applicant to build the chicken farm works at the Department of Agriculture. Mr. McLean did not name the department officer, or elaborate further on his allegations.
In its May decision, the Central Planning Authority approved the original chicken farm plans, subject to conditions, including that the applicant provide a wastewater management plan that receives the approval from the Water Authority.
The Water Authority had submitted written concerns to the planning authority that the chicken farm could contaminate a nearby fresh water lens.
“Given the scale of the proposed facility, its location over Grand Cayman’s largest fresh water lens (East End lens), and its close proximity to the Water Authority’s East End wellfield and reservoir, it is imperative that the discharge of waste and wastewater into or onto the ground does not impact the East End water lens,” the Water Authority stated in a letter made public in May. “The Water Authority will not support this development unless a waste management plan is developed and implemented that ensures that the East End fresh water lens is not impacted.”
Instead of working to meet the conditions of approval to its original plans, the applicant, Toepaz Ltd., purchased nearby land and filed a new application.
Toepaz Ltd. explained in a letter to the Planning Authority that even though it received permission to build its chicken farm in May, it was taking into account the concerns expressed by the Water Authority about the East End fresh water lens.
Accordingly, Toepaz stated that it decided to purchase land outside the fresh water lens area, on Sunnyfield Road, which runs south off the Queen’s Highway and comes to a dead end near the Morritt’s Resort. The company explained in its application that not only is the site outside of the fresh water lens; it is also five times larger than the previous location – making it “more suitable for the establishment of farming operations.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, about 10 East End residents showed up to object to the potential noise and smell nuisances that they said the chicken farm would bring to the area.
“Even though the area is zoned agriculture, this isn’t suitable. This is at the commercial level, and I feel that it’s out of place,” one objector said. “Sunnyfield Road has turned more residential – we have houses, resorts, restaurants, a car rental agency … tourists like to go there because it’s such a tranquil area.”
East End MLA Mr. McLean also said that information provided to the Planning Authority by the Department of Agriculture – which supported the plans – was possibly biased because of a conflict of interest at the department. Mr. McLean said he’s filed complaints with the governor, deputy governor and director of agriculture – who “shares my concerns.”
The Department of Agriculture stated last month that it found the plans “satisfactory,” since the chicken farm was going to be moved away from the East End groundwater.
“The proposed development has now been relocated to an area outside of the East End water lens, thereby eliminating concerns associated with the previous proposed location,” stated the department. “The review by [the department’s Veterinary Service Unit] found the proposed design and associated waste management and contingency plans are satisfactory for the type of operation proposed.”
While not addressing Mr. McLean’s allegations, the Toepaz representative tried to assuage the objectors’ other concerns.
He said there would be 10,000 chickens on the farm, but there would not be any noisy roosters. The representative also said the farm would be solely for producing eggs, and so there would not be any slaughtering going on that would produce the smells that are often the subject of complaints about chicken farms.
Toepaz further touted the benefits the chicken farm would produce for the local economy.
“A significant proportion of eggs currently consumed on Island are imported (approx. 70%),” Toepaz stated in its application. “A chicken egg farm of this nature will be beneficial to the local economy and will go a long way in making the Cayman Islands … self-sufficient in table eggs. Other local farmers will also benefit through information sharing and cooperation.”
The objectors who spoke at the meeting said they were not satisfied with the information provided by Toepaz.
The Planning Authority has not stated its reason for declining the new application despite approving the prior one in May. Such reasons are usually included in the minutes for Central Planning Authority meetings, which are released a week or more after a meeting takes place.
Planning Officer Colleen Stoetzel said that the approval still stands for the previous application.
The Toepaz representative who was at Wednesday’s hearing declined to comment to the Compass on the matter, and also declined to provide his name.
The Department of Agriculture did not respond to Compass inquiries about the allegations made by Mr. McLean.