Mangroves perish under fill
(CNS): Although an appeal has been filed with the Central Planning Authority regarding the on-going dispute over a proposed costal development in South Sound, it appears to be too late for the mangroves in the area. A mangrove replenishment project that was partially funded by an overseas grant to the Cayman government began disappearing this week under a pile of fill, which the developer is tipping into to the sea to reclaim his 2003 land boundary as a result of what activists say is a legally erroneous decision by the CPA. RC Estates was given permission to begin the work under which the replenished mangrove buffer is now vanishing.
Although Protect South Sound, a group of local residents and local activists trying to preserve the coastal area, is waiting to have their appeal over the CPA decision heard, attempts at an injunction to stop the work by the government’s own Department of Environment appear to have failed.
The activists and the DoE believe that the CPA has made a decision which is not, as it claimed, based in law and that no costal boundary can be fixed, which means RC Estates' efforts to reclaim a 2003 land boundary which has since been lost to the ocean is wrong. However, while the legal arguments continue, the failure of the Attorney General’s Chambers to respond to the application for an injunction means the fill is continuing to be poured into the ocean and on top of mangroves replanted in 2006.
“Protect South Sound contacted government ministers on Monday to stress the urgency of the injunction application which has been before the AG for weeks,” said a spokesperson for group. “While we wait for a decision truck loads of fill are being dumped into and bulldozed out into the sea and over young mangrove trees. The CPA's 15th August 2012 decision, which erroneously approved the developer to extend his lots 50 feet out into the water and build a 9-foot high seawall only 2 feet in from the 2003 boundary, has been appealed and the developer was served with the notice and grounds of appeal last week on 10th October.”
Despite the notice of appeal, with permission from the CPA in hand, RC Estates is proceeding lawfully at present with the development regardless. It will require an injunction to stop the coastal works, since the developer has avoided the need for a Cabinet granted coastal works licence because of what is seen as a misguided decision by the CPA. Having accepted the claim that the 2003 boundary is still valid, despite the fact that the sea took it, the CPA had indicated that work is not really coastal works but work on land which the developer is reclaiming.
The 50 feet of recovering mangrove buffer that runs for 2,000 feet along the existing coastal lots of the proposed development in the South Sound was funded in part by a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Migratory Bird Conservation and Reef Ball Foundation. The Cayman government via the DoE received around $30,000 towards the project, which has proved to be a success. While replenishing mangrove buffer is notoriously slow and difficult, the project, which began in 2006, was beginning to make significant progress.
In what is becoming a problem for conservation in Cayman, the DoE had managed to raise much needed funding for a conservation projects while another arm of government has completely undermined its efforts. Not only has government persistently failed to demonstrate any real commitment to environmental protection, in this case one agency of government has given permission to a developer to entirely destroy a project undertaken by government’s own environment agency.
During the recent hearing the DoE presented extensive evidence to the CPA of the recovery of the mangroves and a catalogue of environmental issues relating to the removal of the recovering buffer, as well as the importance of continuing to replenish the area and not remove more. As the marl continues to be dumped into the ocean in South Sound this week, local marine life there is also under threat. The DoE also pointed to the sensitivity and significance of the area as a Marine Replenishment Zone and as a protected Scenic Coastline Zone.
In addition the planning department had also advised the CPA against the removal of the mangrove, pointing out that the preservation of mangrove buffer at the high-water mark was best planning practice. “From department’s perspective, the 50’ buffer should be retained,” the planning department said in its recommendations.
The Development Plan (1997) designates this area as being a ‘Scenic Coastline Zone’ and Section 20 of the Development and Planning Regulations (2006 Revision) requires the CPA to ensure that the open character of scenic coastline land is preserved and to safeguard the public’s right to use the beaches and to gain access to them through public rights of way. In addition, the plan states that “the panoramic views and vistas provided by these coastlines are natural assets which are to be safeguarded for present and future generations.”
Despite the recommendations from the two government departments, the CPA said it was swayed by the presentation given by the applicant’s lawyer that the owners had a legal right to develop the land. The attorney argued that his client’s land had a fixed boundary, which the sea had eroded, but it was still his client’s boundary.
However, it is understood that the law does state that coastal boundaries cannot be fixed -- an issue that the CPA did not acknowledge when granting the developer planning permission and paved the way for him to begin tipping fill into the ocean.
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