The Department of Environment has not given the go-ahead for work to start on removing parts of ironshore to create a saltwater tidal pool at the FIN development on South Church Street.
The project, which was approved by the Department of Planning last year, has drawn the ire of some on social media after a series of photos showing markers placed along the ironshore for removal made the rounds.
On Thursday morning, the exterior wall of the luxury development had been defaced with expletive-filled graffiti.
DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie, in response to queries from the Cayman Compass Thursday, said, the DoE is in discussions with FIN Development regarding two plans. Those plans address the environmental management of the tidal pool during the construction phase and once it’s in operation.
Both plans form part of the Central Planning Authority’s approval for the tidal pool. Normally, the CPA grants approval and the DoE would provide recommendations. In this case, however, FIN is required to submit the plans to the department for approval prior to the commencement of works.
“For clarity we have not yet approved either plan,” she said.
Petrie-Ebanks noted that the removal of ironshore is illegal if the works being carried out have no planning permission.
“Planning permission is required because the land is privately owned up to the edge of the ironshore. Section 41 of the National Conservation Law (NCL) requires the Central Planning Authority to consult with the National Conservation Council (NCC) prior to issuing approval for any development that could have an adverse effect on the environment generally and the NCC has delegated that consultation function to the DoE,” Ebanks-Petrie said.
In this case, she said, the DoE has reviewed the FIN application several times, beginning in 2015.
Director of Planning Haroon Pandohie, through an emailed response to queries from the Cayman Compass about the project, pointed out that the removal at the luxury development was approved back in June 2019.
FIN Development, responding to the graffiti, told the Compass, “We feel sorry that people think this is a responsible way to air their concerns. FIN is a project which has been carefully conceived over many years and has all necessary approvals.”
The developers said that they had worked for years, beginning with a careful study and monitoring programme for the marine environment in front of the project, combining an ongoing monitoring of the impacts with a plan for coral regrowth.
“It saddens us that, after years of effort to do things right, someone thinks that the appropriate response is to sneak up in the night and spray paint obscenities.”
It said that the works were approved by the DoE, subject to careful oversight by them, and “we are currently working with them on how to commence works in compliance with the approved plan. Rather than just cut a hole and pour concrete around the edges, the lagoon at FIN is designed to act more naturally and minimize impact on the surrounding environment.”
FIN said at all appropriate stages, the public has had the opportunity to voice any concerns.
“It saddens us that, after years of effort to do things right, someone thinks that the appropriate response is to sneak up in the night and spray paint obscenities in hopes of creating an ill-informed sensation on social media. Regardless, we will continue to do things correctly, work with the DoE and other relevant authorities to demonstrate our commitment to the environment and Cayman by our actions not our words,” it added.
Ebanks-Petrie, in her message to developers, said, the DoE will review all such applications with a view to ensuring that all identified environmental impacts can either be avoided through changes in the project design or mitigated through the application of appropriate measures.
“If a member of the public witnesses excavation of the ironshore they should immediately contact the Planning Department to ascertain whether or not the works being carried out have Planning permission,” she added.
Initially, FIN Development had applied for permission to create three small tidal pools, but according to CPA minutes from 5 June 2019, that proposal was changed to one after the three pools were rejected.
When the application for one large tidal pool was taken before the CPA, chairman A.L. Thompson and member Selvin Richardson declared conflicts and left the meeting room.
Ray Hydes sat as acting chairman for the application to modify planning permission for the pool.
Permission was granted based on the development’s adherence to four specific conditions.
Firstly, prior to the commencement of works, the developers were to prepare a Construction Environmental Management Plan detailing the scope of third-party monitoring agreed in writing with the DoE on behalf of the National Conservation Council.
“The scope shall include duration of monitoring, monitoring locations, control site locations, parameters to be measured, the threshold level of 4 NTUs (Nephelometric Turbidity Units) and reporting requirements as well as any other information which may be deemed required by the DoE. The Plan shall be complied with during construction,” the minutes stated.
Secondly, the development was to prepare an Operational Environmental Management Plan and agreed in writing with the DoE for water-quality monitoring before construction.
“The parameters to be monitored within the sea pool are dissolved oxygen, salinity and temperature. Additional parameters may be required in response to any water quality issues that might arise periodically,” according to the specified conditions.
In order to facilitate the creation of the saltwater tidal pool, the addition of sand would be needed.
As a condition of the approval, the CPA deemed that the placement of the sand be on a trial basis for a duration of 18 months.
“During this time, the DoE shall be afforded access to the site for monitoring purposes. If the supply of site-derived sand is exhausted during the trial period, then no additional sand shall be placed at the site at any time. If the supply of site-derived sand is low during the trial period, and the importation of sand is expected, then a Sustainability Plan shall be prepared by [FIN Development] and agreed in writing with the DoE on behalf of the NCC,” the CPA conditions stated.
The Sustainability Plan, according to the minutes, will outline the rate of sand depletion at the site, the volume of sand remaining, measures to mitigate environmental effects and preliminary details on sand sourcing and suitability.
“The mitigation measures may include removal of the beach from the sea pool entirely or reduction of the size of the beach,” it added.
If sand is to be imported, either locally or internationally, at any time, the CPA conditions stated, the source and suitability of any sand other than site-derived sand shall be approved by the DoE on behalf of the NCC prior to importation and placement.
The CPA also allowed for a variance of the high-water mark due to the very nature of the proposal as a tidal pool dictates its location on the sea.
“Given the conditions required to be imposed by the National Conservation Council, it would appear that the environmental impacts associated with the tidal pool’s proximity to the sea will be minimal and this is a material consideration to allow the proposed setback,” the minutes said.