DoE directs planning authority to reject Boggy Sand cabana/seawall plan

The Department of Environment says there is zero feet between this structure on Boggy Sand Road and the mean high water mark due to beach erosion caused by the sea wall. Planning regulations call for minimum setback of 75 feet from the high water mark. - Photo: Norma Connolly

The Department of Environment is directing the Central Planning Authority to reject plans for the demolition and replacement of a cabana and seawall on Boggy Sand Road in West Bay.

The CPA is scheduled to hear the application on Wednesday, 1 Sept.

Earlier this year, the planning authority rejected an application to build a three-storey dwelling at the location, after the DoE recommended the rejection.

Now, the owners, Cayman Property Investments Ltd., have submitted a planning application to demolish the existing single-storey cabana and replace it with a two-storey cabana, and to construct a replacement sea wall inside the existing compromised sea wall, which will then be demolished.

In its submission in response to the planning application, the DoE outlined several problems with the development.

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Through powers delegated to it by the National Conservation Council under the National Conservation Act, the department directed the CPA to refuse the planning permission “on the basis that the proposed development will result in the detrimental alteration of a Marine Protected Area and the environment generally (including the turtle nesting habitat)”.

The site (marked in blue), along with the presence of seawalls at properties to the east, has resulted in an area with no sea turtle nesting due to the lack of a beach, according to the Department of Environment. There is critical habitat (marked in red) to the east and nesting habitat (marked in yellow) to the west. – Image: Courtesy DoE

No beach

The DoE, in response to the application, stated that, despite sand being deposited on beach following some recent storms, “under normal circumstances, the beach in this location ceases to exist and this has been the case for at least the past 5 years, and it is only under quite unique storm conditions that sand is deposited on this shoreline”.

With no beach present, the high water mark effectively is at the seawall itself.

“Therefore, whilst the proposed seawall is positioned marginally further inland than the existing, the proposed seawall will also have a 0ft setback from the sea,” the DoE noted. “The proposed cabana will have an 8ft setback from the existing seawall and an even lesser setback from the proposed seawall location.”

It added, “The Department has grave concerns about the vulnerability of the proposed development given its proximity to the sea and associated wave activity/loading and scour. Climate change predictions both globally and regionally predict an acceleration in sea level rise, with increased intensity of storm and hurricane activity in the Caribbean. There are
absolutely no mitigating circumstances which could justify a departure from the legally
prescribed setbacks in this location and, in our view, it would be negligent to permit
development on this site.”

Impact on marine environment

The DoE also raised concerns about the likely impact the demolition work and replacement of the seawall will have on the marine environment at the site, which is located by a Marine Protected Area.

“Given the erosion that has occurred, it is unclear how these works can be conducted without causing significant levels of sedimentation and turbidity in the marine environment, as the sea will undoubtedly inundate the construction site,” the DoE stated.

An engineering report relating to the work states that pumping and shoring will be required. The DoE pointed out that there is no location provided for dealing with sediment-laden water, as the site is too small to facilitate this onsite.

“The rate of pumping is likely to be very high, given the depth into the ground water required for the additional foundation, the porosity of the sand and the proximity to the sea,” the department noted, adding, “It does not seem possible to construct this development on such a small site without deleterious impacts on the Marine Reserve, especially given the negative impacts experienced when the seawall was originally constructed.”

The DoE also noted that sedimentation is one of the biggest potential sources of reef degradation, by reducing the amount of light available for photosynthesis and by increasing sediment load on corals, which are a protected species in Cayman.

It stated that corals are already facing continuous stress from external sources, such as climate change, bleaching events and stony coral tissue loss disease, “and adding further local stress could be the tipping point past which our corals cannot survive”.

It added, “Given that so many external stressors on corals are beyond the control of the Cayman Islands Government and statutory bodies (including the Central Planning Authority and the National Conservation Council), it is even more important that local decisions within Cayman’s control take a more deliberate consideration of corals and the effect on the marine environment.”

The department also added that while the beach in question is not listed as a turtle nesting beach, this is due to the disappearance of the beach because of the impact of the sea walls at the cabana structure and the roadside one by Mary Mollie Hydes Road.

The DoE said it was of the “firm view” that the site is not an appropriate location for a two-storey cabana development.

It noted that there had been a planning application from the previous owner in 2014 to increase the height of the existing single-storey cabana to two floors, but the CPA at that time had turned down the application on the basis that it was concerned that the creation of a second storey might lead to the structure being used as a dwelling unit.

The original cabana and seawall were approved by the CPA in 2009. Back then, when that application was being considered, the DoE pointed out, the Department of Planning noted that “most seawalls do not only prove to be ineffective in halting beach erosion, but also
are often a source of serious damage to the coastal environment”.

The DoE said, “These concerns are shared by the Department of Environment and have proven to be true at this site. Following development of the seawall at the site, the beach has experienced major erosion and is absent for sustained periods.”

The department also noted that hard structures, such as seawalls, interfere with the deposit of sand from waves as they roll up a beach. “When waves hit a seawall, the energy is directed downwards and sideways. When the energy is directed downwards, the waves scoop out the sand at the foot of the seawall,” a process which is evident at the Boggy Sand Road site.

Failing structure

The DoE said, “It is very clear that this site is not a good location for built development and the seawall probably should never have been granted planning permission a decade ago. It is evident that within a very short period the structure is failing, partly due to an inappropriate design and partly due to its position in an inappropriate location.

“It would therefore seem futile to try to permit further development on this problematic site.”

It stated that removal of all structures at the site, and the installation of a properly designed wall, for the protection of the adjoining house, “with appropriate tie-in to both the sheet-piled seawall installed by [the Cayman Islands government] along Mary Molly Hydes Road and the seawall of the adjacent house would likely result in recovery of the beach on the parcel”.

According to the planning documents, the cabana would be built 8 feet, 3.5 inches from the existing high water mark at the sea wall, 10 feet, 2.5 inches from the road boundary and 14 feet from the west boundary.

The Planning Department, in its analysis of the application, submitted that the planning regulations require a minimum setback of 75 feet from the high water mark, but that the entire development is fully situated within the high water mark 75-foot setback.

It also noted that the regulations call for a 20-foot front setback, but this property is sited 10 feet, 2.5 inches from the front boundary line.

See the Central Planning Authority agenda here. The relevant section is 2.1.

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