The FIN development on the George Town coastline has agreed to remove construction debris from the water in front of its site after local conservationists raised concerns after spotting PVC piping, concrete blocks and other items on the seabed.
Local resident Rachel Osborne was snorkeling past the site recently when she spotted the debris. She took photos and posted them to social media, where they were reposted by others and led to more than 50 responses where people questioned why this was being allowed to happen.
The company denied that construction debris had been dumped deliberately, saying some of the material may have blown into the water during stormy weather.
Nadège Parent, FIN’s sales and marketing manager, in response to queries from the Cayman Compass said via email, “It appears that a small amount of foreign materials have been found on the sea bed which most likely found their way there during a storm. These materials may or may not have come from the FIN site.”
She added, “Nevertheless, we were disheartened by the images sent by Ms. Osborne and immediately hired a local dive team to carry out the clean-up. Two divers were here [Monday] for an initial survey and they will be back again [Tuesday] afternoon to begin removal.”
The Compass visited the site on Tuesday afternoon, and it appeared some of the debris shown on social media had been removed, though a number of PVC pipes and concrete blocks remained.
Parent said the blocks were required to stay there, as they are used as anchors for silt curtains. These screens are used to try to prevent silt kicked up from the removal of ironshore at the site – to create a fin-shaped saltwater pool – from entering the water.
Department of Environment staff visited the site on Tuesday and noted the presence of construction debris on the seabed, the manager of the DoE’s Environmental Management Unit, Wendy Johnson, told the Compass.
“We have been in communication with the developer and they have advised that all material will be removed from the seabed by the end of Thursday, 4 March,” she said. “We will be conducting an inspection at the end of this week to ensure that this is the case.”
Parent said that starting this week, FIN had “initiated a weekly in-water survey to ensure that the site remains clean and any objects that might accidently end up in the water are removed and also ensure appropriate disposal of same”.
During the Ash Wednesday public holiday last month, a large amount of silt from the South Church Street construction site was spotted in the coastal waters amid rough sea conditions after the silt screens failed to stop the silt from spreading.
Parent told the Compass that, with regards to its lagoon works, FIN was in full compliance of measures approved by the DOE.
“We have all necessary approvals, we measure water turbidity four times a day and are in daily communication with the department. To infer otherwise is false and damaging to what we see as a cooperative approach to bringing these works to a successful conclusion and setting the stage for a long term stewardship [of] our coastal environment,” she said.
FIN said the development company is working with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation as well as with a Nova Southeastern University marine biology research team to assess the state of the nearby coral reef. Assessments were done in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but no assessments have been done in the past year, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
FIN also said it plans to use a percentage of strata fees to fund a coral protection programme, but until a strata is formed, the company says it is funding the programme to complete the coral assessment project.
Parent said, “We have set out to commission a local dive and research team to continue this important program.”
But local residents and environmentalists have questioned why it is necessary for the development to cut into the ironshore to create a sea pool and a beach, when the building already is so close to the sea.
Osborne and others are calling for a public meeting to discuss the impact of the development on the ironshore and immediate marine surroundings. She asked why it was not possible to stop the work removing part of the ironshore at the site. “Why can’t they drop it and leave it as ironshore?”
When the development was seeking planning permission in 2015 for FIN, which included creating three sea pools, the Department of Environment voiced its concerns at the time that excavation work for a sea pool would cause increased water turbidity in the marine park, that would be exacerbated by strong wave action and difficulties in implementing mitigation measures, such as silt screens. The DoE “strongly recommended” that the sea pools be removed from the plans, and that the development be built significantly further back than the proposed 50-feet setback.
The plans were revised so that one sea pool would be built instead of three, which the DoE again urged the Central Planning Authority to reject, but permission was eventually granted.