Environmental assessments are science, not politics

The members of the National Conservation Council hope the publisher will allow the NCC space to congratulate him on a declaration made in Wednesday, 9 January’s Cayman Compass editorial, namely that concerns about the environment are “in need of thoughtful advocacy.”

To that end, we have penned this attempt to further inform the Cayman Islands public about the process of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and their application to development projects.

The 9 January editorial stated: “[The Cayman Compass Editorial Board) position is that EIAs are at least as political as they are scientific and in some instances have been used by environmentalists as tools to impede, if not euthanise, projects they oppose.”

This statement, NCC members believe, is indicative of the fundamental misunderstanding that persists in Cayman around what an EIA is and is not.

An EIA legally cannot prevent any project from proceeding. Conversely, it cannot require any project to proceed. Such decisions are ultimately left to the developers and the decision-makers (e.g. Cabinet or the Central Planning Authority)

EIAs are information documents, technical advice provided to a developer to assist in a project – not to impede it. Much has been said locally regarding the cost of requiring EIAs, yet the other side of this debate – the cost of not completing a credible, thorough EIA – is rarely broached. EIAs allow decision-makers to fully understand the environmental effects of what they are approving.

Major projects in Cayman have been the subject of environmental assessments for decades but the process was only formalised in 2013, with the advent of the National Conservation Law and, even then, the assessments have been used rarely. An EIA was recommended in less than one per cent of the hundreds of projects reviewed by the Department of Environment between July 2016 and December 2017.

EIAs are only required when a development is likely to significantly harm the environment and there is not sufficient information available for regulatory entities to adequately assess potential impacts. The NCC recommended an EIA for the removal of beach rock in the Seven Mile Beach marine park for this very reason. It did not recommend an EIA for the Hyatt Hotel on the Pageant Beach site as there is no proposed construction activity in the marine park and the DoE has sufficient information to assess the impacts associated with the land-based construction at this location.

The purpose of an EIA is to ensure a project developer, as well as members of the general public, get the best product possible. Such assessments are typically done by apolitical technical specialists to avoid the very perception of political motivation the Compass editorial board references.

The National Conservation Council will be working hard in 2019 to better inform the Cayman Islands public about the EIA process and the benefits of such evaluations under the National Conservation Law.

Respectfully,

McFarlane Conolly,
Chairman, National
Conservation Council