Opposition to land conservation grows

| 23/06/2016 | 19 Comments
Cayman News Service

Ghost orchid in the Ironwood Forest in George Town

(CNS): All of the members of the opposition who were present in the final throes of Finance Committee Wednesday evening voted against withdrawing cash from the Environmental Protection Fund to buy land for conservation purposes. The independent and UDP members all raised objections to the environment minister’s motion to secure some $6.7 million from the fund, as they implied there were hidden agendas and ulterior motives on the part of the National Conservation Council in its efforts to protect critical habitat.

During the vote on the appropriation for the NCC last week, not all of the opposition benches voted against it. But with the exception of Bernie Bush (West Bay), who was absent from the Chamber at the time, the opposition joined forces in an attempt to block a motion filed by Minister Wayne Panton to authorise access to the EPF if deals are made with landowners.

Although Panton repeatedly explained that there would be no compulsory purchases and that land would only be bought only from willing sellers and for very specific reasons after a full and transparent process, the opposition members clung to their belief that there was something else afoot and that members of the NCC would be grabbing land.

Cayman News Service

Banana orchid (courtesy QEII Botanic Park)

“No action can be taken other than with a landowner’s agreement. If a landowner is not interested, no one can force the issue,” Panton told members.

But Ezzard Miller (North Side) insisted that “conservationists won’t give up” and that they would be agitating for forced acquisition, as he asked the minister to focus on land management agreements instead.

As Panton pointed to the open and transparent workings of the conservation law since it was passed, he also assured members that land management agreements would be considered equally where owners don’t want to sell. Reassuring members there was nothing to hide, he said the NCC meetings were all open to the public.

Miller dismissed that however as he said his North Side constituents, whose land he believed was going to be taken, didn’t have time to go to meetings in George Town in the afternoon. He continued to imply that these “conservationists” had a hidden agenda or would eventually be given lawful powers to take land.

The North Side MLA continued to block the minister’s efforts to support the NCC in their aim of protecting important habitat, given the fact that the only land in Cayman with any protection at all is in the hands of the National Trust. Successive governments have all failed to conserve any land in Cayman for future generations and allowed development to take precedent, even overturning its own mangrove buffer protections in the planning law to allow for development.

United in their opposition to protecting any environmentally sensitive land, the MLAs were not swayed by the minister’s reassurances that no one would be forced to sell their land and steadfastly refused to support the motion to withdraw the funds.

So far, the NCC has not identified the exact parcels that it believes are the most sensitive but the aim, once funds are secured, is to begin the process. Once the land is identified, the planning ministry will negotiate with landowners.

Panton stressed that where the owners refuse to sell or enter into a managed land agreement, that would be an end to the matter and the NCC would look elsewhere. Where an owner is happy to sell and a deal has been struck, there would then be an open and transparent public consultation to recommend to Cabinet that the land be protected under the law for future generations.

The minister explained that the $6 million earmarked for land purchases was an estimated amount to purchase the type of habitat that the council will be looking for that can give the best protection for Cayman’s critical species.

Despite the opposition to the conservation project, the environment minister secured the backing of his government colleagues and the motion passed with nine votes for and seven against.

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Category: Government Finance, Land Habitat, Politics, Science & Nature

Comments (19)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    How about taking that 6 million dollars and buying some beach land for the locals.
    That interior parrot habitat will be there for years to come and can be bought at a later date.

  2. Anonymous says:

    How profoundly ignorant must one be in the 21st century to be anything but passionately pro-conservation? Come on, guys. Read a book. Look around.

  3. anonomyous says:

    His constituents don’t have time to drive to a meeting in Georgetown?? Did Bernie have trouble getting out of bed to go to work? Are you kidding? Clearly EM is not fit for any government office that is required to make tough decisions to protect the future of this county. He and his brethran need to go back to chopping bush!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Try snaffling some of Dart’s land and see where that gets you. Idiots.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Every MLA that voted against money for land conservation should be voted out of office. They have demonstrated that they are idiots. VOTE THEM OUT! They feeling foolish and almighty now and full of piousness, but come election time they become beggars starving for votes. Do them a favour and send them to the NWDA this election and tell them find a real job. I’d love to see what they write down for skills on their job application form.

  6. Anonymous says:

    There is nothing like an imaginary bogeyman to wind up the stupid. And their constituents.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ezzard must be a member of the NRA as he has the exact same Neanderthal mentality.

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t know about the National Roads Authority.

      Interestingly, he is a Life Member of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Must be an election year…need to be doing something for their district…even if it’s nothing useful.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I do not blame the independants for not supporting the bill. Minister Panton should have informed the entire house and country of the location of the land and the price before asking for funds to be transferred to the conservation committee. They are entitled to that information. I think that his comment about the MLAs going to the committee meetings to find out where the land is. This entire maneuvering leaves a lot of unanswered questions and it appears that Minister Panton is not being as transparent as he should be.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why tell them which parcels? So they can pick the winners? They are not really worried about peoples land being taken, they want a say about who is allowed to unload their unusable land on the government at a good price.

    • Judge Dreadlock says:

      Should we also identify all rapists and child abusers before releasing funds to address those problems?

  10. Anonymous says:

    At this point it’s probably better to throw everything we have at eradicating the green iguanas. No sense in securing land to let the iguanas destroy everything on it.

    • Anonymous says:

      The National Conservation Committee has been given too much power and they represent a select few and not the majority of Caymanian sentiment. Not only will land grabbing become as issue but the conservative side has done its best to malign sales of land so that Caymanian land owners cannot sell their land fairly on the open market so that later on down the line they can acquire at fairly low prices. Poor Caymanians that saved for years or had land passed onto them. That money can be better spent to help the poor people.

      • John Muir says:

        You are wrong. The money was set aside for this express purpose. It should be released. It is to be used to freely negotiate with landowners. If landowners do not want to sell, they don’t have to. If they do, negotiations take place and a price is agreed, in just the same way that you or I would to buy a piece of land, or a house.

        That money has already been earmarked. It is to be used for this purpose. All this government cock-blocking is just dictatorial government interference, as usual. It sounds very similar to the shenanigans Michael Missick got up to. Which and I can’t believe I need to say this, but I think I do – were illegal. Let the conservationists get on with their role, which is for the good of everyone – forever.

        Who would vote against creating the US, or any other world national park? It’s the same principle here, but I know many people have problems with understanding what a “principle” is.

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Cayman News Service