Plans to construct a resort hotel at Beach Bay, a primary habitat for turtle nesting, continued to stir debate on Wednesday.
Hours after the Central Planning Authority met over the development, the National Conservation Council held its own meeting, where tensions arose over the project’s environmental impact.
Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie sought to clarify that while an environmental impact assessment has not been recommended for the hotel, environmental concerns are myriad.
“I think I should probably just take some time to explain that just because the screening opinion did not recommend an EIA does not mean that there are not significant issues associated with the application,” Ebanks-Petrie said during the National Conservation Council meeting on Wednesday.
“What it means is that department feels it has sufficient information that it can detail what the impacts are or are likely to be and make recommendations, as we have done, to mitigate some of those impacts.”
The Department of Environment has requested several adjustments to the resort’s plans, which in their current state, are expected to greatly diminish the site’s beach area and cut into critical sea turtle habitat.
The DoE has asked that construction be relocated from the beach to higher land, and that villas and pathways be removed from the beach entirely.
“In addition to that we requested that the applicant prepare and submit a turtle-friendly lighting plan to the DoE, which would minimise impacts on sea turtle nesting and any subsequent hatchling misorientation,” Ebanks-Petrie said.
Developers would also be expected to consult with the DoE before construction to ensure no turtle nests are impacted. The DoE is also asking that no construction take place without its permission during turtle nesting season from 1 May to 30 Nov.
Colleen Stoetzel, representing the Central Planning Authority, said turtle-friendly lighting is being incorporated into planning. She described the condition of consulting with DoE about construction during turtle-nesting season as “very new”.
Ebanks-Petrie pushed back on that claim.
“The recommendations haven’t been new. The fact that you all haven’t included it is new,” Ebanks-Petrie said.
“We’ve consistently made those recommendations.”
Nadia Hardie of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands asked for an assurance that follow-up on the recommendations would be provided.
“That’s my concern, that the NCC makes these recommendations, and I sometimes feel we don’t get the feedback on whether these recommendations are actually being followed by planning,” Hardie said.
“Construction on the beach to me is ludicrous. We all know about climate change, so for this to even be suggested and even considered is crazy. We don’t need an EIA to tell us that … but I would like to see that our recommendations from the NCC are heavily considered by Planning.”
Around 40 neighbouring residents attended a Central Planning Authority meeting on the development earlier in the day to spell out some of their objections to the five-star resort. While some objectors were opposed entirely to the resort, others requested tweaks to the design to lessen the impact on surrounding residences.
The planning department confirmed Thursday, “The CPA adjourned the application in order for the applicant to make some revisions to the plans regarding the High Water Mark setback, the location of the required public access to the sea, the location of the ‘back of house’ facilities and the number of parking spaces.”
During the CPA meeting, the developer did not budge on plans to build directly on the beach. Spencer Levine, of RAL Development Services, said the beach properties were a small but important part of the design.
The National Conservation Council expected to have confirmation by its 4 Dec. meeting in Cayman Brac over whether its recommendations had been incorporated.
James Whittaker contributed to reporting this story.