Unlawful mangrove clearance under DPP investigation

| 12/05/2021 | 57 Comments
Before and after the illegal removal of mangroves (from CPA agenda for 12 May 2021 meeting)

(CNS): The Department of Environment has stated that it is investigating the unlawful clearance of mangroves in Red Bay with the help of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and is recommending that an application being made by the landscaping company that did the clearing for after-the-fact permission be held in abeyance until the investigation is complete. Mangroves were cleared on a site off Abbey Way and Selkirk Drive by MAB Gardening Services Ltd, who have said they had no idea that they needed permission to do the work.

The land in question was cleared in March. A local non-profit activist group. the Mangrove Rangers, spotted that the work being done and alerted the DoE, which then issued the necessary stop orders. But by the time the work stopped, not only had the entire site been cleared but the clearance work had encroached on other parcels of land.

According to the DoE submissions for the after-the-fact application by Orso Bianco Ltd, before the bulldozer was deployed the land was characterized as mangrove habitat, with secondary growth. Drone footage taken by the DoE also shows where the clearing work had spread to three other adjoining parcels of land.

The 1.41-acre site has no planning application attached and the planning department has said that it “typically discourages land clearing in the absence of an approved development for the site”. But having been designated a protected species, mangroves can no longer be cleared without express approval, under specific conditions and clearance of them now contravenes the National Conservation Law, which means this goes beyond a mere breach of planning regulations that should be “discouraged”.

The landscapers who were contracted to clear the land by the owners, Orso Bianco, said they had won a competitive tender to clear the property, ahead of the owner’s intention to submit a planning application.

“All such works were to be for the benefit of the owner of the Property,” the landscapers said. “Unfortunately, at no time did MAB appreciate that CPA permission was required to clear the Property given the contract for services was for the sole purpose of clearing the land in an established subdivision where similar clearing had taken place.”

MAB said it was a misunderstanding and there was no deliberate intent to circumvent the required process and they did not know the National Conservation Law would apply to the clearing of the property, given it was not waterfront land.

“In the morning of Wednesday 17 March Mr Ronnie Dougal from the DoE visited the Property where certain questions were asked of MAB, who were on site clearing the Property. Later that day (approximately 3:30pm), MAB was served with a cease and desist order by DoE, which was immediately complied with. All machinery was removed from the Property at that time and no further work has occurred since. Therefore, we want to emphasise to both the CPA and DoE that upon being made aware of the need for a permit and being served with a cease and desist order, MAB immediately complied with such order and at no time was it ignored,” the landscapers claimed. “We are extremely distressed and very apologetic that the clearing of the Property occurred without the necessary approvals/permits. It was a genuine mistake/oversight and for that we apologise.”

The clearance of the mangroves became an issue on the campaign trail for then premier Alden McLaughlin, who remains the MP for Red Bay. Although it was his Cabinet that adopted the mangrove species protection plan making it an offence under the law to clear them, when asked about the illegal clearance, McLaughlin said the government could not deny the owner the right to develop the land.

See the after-the-fact application by Orso Bianco Ltd in the CPA agenda for 12 May meeting
in the CNS Library.

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Category: Crime, development, DoE, Land Habitat, Local News, Science & Nature

Comments (57)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This does not appear to be one of the big developers so why is the DOE choosing to ask the DPP to go after this little landscaping company and the small landowner?? It is not a large tract of land, it is located in a long-established subdivision and it is not on the coast so it is easy to see that this could in fact have been an honest mistake. People who live in that area say it was a swampy, mosquito breeding ground and that garbage was dumped on it regularly over the years. Where was the DOE’s response to that and where was the public outcry over that? Why choose to try to make an example in this situation with what appears to be a private land owner and a small landscaping company?? Why haven’t they taken on the bigger developers (who DEFINITELY know the rules) and referred those situations to the DPP?! Are they afraid of them? Are they afraid of the blowback if they tackle them?

    Property located within an EXISTING subdivision is normally meant to be built on. This is not unusual. The DOE, the eco warriors and the rangers and whoever else should focus on the HUGE damage being done and which is about to be done by the big developers including the enormous project that is about to be pushed through in the same area as this property. The response in this instance is simply overblown.

    • Annonymous says:

      Need to take small steps before taking big ones. CIMA has already strarted the process. It is not business as usual anymore my friend!

  2. Anonymous says:

    It is internal land surrounded by subdivisions. What a waste of time …

  3. Gray Matter says:

    These ranger idiots tried this one with me. I won , family property for over 80 years and grandfathered in.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s interesting to note that a volunteer group reported the destruction of our beautiful mangroves to DoE.
    My question to Mr Dougal (who I understand is the enforcement supervisor) is where was the DoE officer responsible for that area? Because I have had cause to call upon the person claiming to be my local officer on a couple of occasions but he always claims to be either busy or out of the area, which I find hard to believe. However It was my belief that DoE patrol the islands in order to prevent such terrible damage to our environment. But when one listens to those who apparently know better, it must be hard to complete that task when conducting ones own private business instead. So Mr Dougal, where was the officer (or officers) under your supervision whilst this vandalism took place and why are they not facing charges for abandonment of their duty if they were using government time for self interest, as widely suspected. I suggest the heroes of this disgraceful saga are the diligent volunteers, and the villains are the hopeless fools at the DoE who allowed this to happen on their watch.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think they’ve actually cleared more mangrove outside the parcel than they have inside the actual parcel.

    Utter cretins.

    Ignorance is a solid defense here, and they’re sticking to it!

    • Anonymous says:

      The adjacent land parcels was already cleared de-muck and filled.

      The before photo was taking in 2018, three years ago. The before photo is not an accurate up to date photo. Within 3 years NRA cleared and dug a trench around the land while paving over the road.

      Also, if you look at the before photo, all of that land wasn’t covered with mangroves, only a small portion of it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    In what scenario would you be refused clearance? If you buy land zoned for residential property and then refused permission to clear it, hence making your purchase worthless, I think it would make a good court case!

    • Anonymous says:

      Absolutely correct! We are going from the sublime to the ridiculous!

    • Gray Matter says:

      Sue the Real Estate Co. that sold it as apartment site.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s a question of leaving some natural vegetation where you can & for as long as you can. You have to respect the flaura & fawna habitat. Leave as many natural trees as you can.
      The owners claimed to neighbours they were not planning on developing…
      The sad thing was the premier of our country (at that time) allowed this to happen. He stated in writing (mar 8th) that it was about finding a balance between preservation & development. BUT he did nothing to stop this.

      • Anonymous says:

        Far too subjective and who would make this decision? The DOE? You are talking ethics not relevant to the buying and selling of land zoned for development, which really does not care what is growing there.

      • Anonymous says:

        Flora, Fauna.

  7. Anonymous says:

    As ever, you’re all screaming at the little guy who’s just trying to earn a buck and ignoring the obvious question: who is the ultimate owner of the land? A company, presumably an ordinary one, is the registered owner, so its register of members is public. Go look it up at its registered office if you’re so fussed. And then go and harass the person who owns it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    By the way, speaking of hypocritical, most of these persons behind this whole mangrove exercise, are living on land that was once mangrove and has been filled, themselves!! I can name a few of them. To destroy the lives of others like the owners of this landscape company, is pretty rough. It’s probably not a mega company like Vigaro I am sure. Very unfortunate.

    • Annonymous says:

      We cannot allow this beautiful country to be destroyed by few greedy people most of whome have lived here less than 15 years!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Actually this is outrageous! Is there any reason why a landscape company who was contracted by the owners of the property to clear the property, are being held accountable? They have NO responsibility to ensure that the owners of the property secured the necessary planning permission to do the clearing of the land. That was entirely the responsibility of the landowners. The landscape company had no right to access the property or clear the property but for the consent of the owners of the property, who had an obligation to get the permission required to clear the property. So now a company that can ill afford to pay these costs and have a conviction against them are now being stuck with this fiasco thanks to DOE and the DPP. This is crazy. Disgraceful! BTW does planning make it clear once plans are approved that they need to make a separate application for clearance of mangroves?

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually, it is the responsibility of the company contracted to do the work to make sure permissions are in place. Anyone in the business of landscaping or construction knows this.

      • Anonymous says:

        Really, is that in their Trade and Business License?! What nonsense. Are you suggesting that the landscape company has the automatic responsibility to go to DOE and seek permission for the land owners land to be cleared once they engage to only clear land? How can you possibly suggest that the landowner who contracts them to go and clear the land has no responsibility?

        • Anonymous says:

          You ignoramous. That is not what the commenter said at all. Nothing of the sort even. Did you bother to read?? Where did it say “the landscape company has the automatic responsibility to go to DOE and seek permission for the land owners land to be cleared” ?????
          It’s one thing to read and a completely different thing to comprehend what one has read.

        • Anonymous says:

          No, that is not what I am suggesting. I said it is their responsibility to make sure permissions are in place.
          They are not to start work on the site until they have in their possession the approval from Planning that the land can be cleared. That permission is to be obtained by the landowner. It is a simple process.

      • Gray Matter says:

        So you are saying to sell a car , you have to make sure the buyer has a drivers license and insurance.

    • Anonymous says:

      They have equal responsibility to ensure that they are not breaking law. Ignorance of the law is not a defence and it was incumbent on all parties to ensure that they complied.

  10. Anonymous says:

    These people that clear thier land of mangroves without permission and put in an after the fact application should have any and all buidling permits denied/removed regardless of current construction done. The company that knowingly removed the mangroves be fines AND have thier license revoked for 1 year with second offenses for owner and business getting 1 year jail time/fine and licenses suspended for 2 years and third offences havig their T & B revoke permanently with that person barred from getting another forever, the home owner heavily fined with jail time and their property being built on confescated by and now owned by the CIG.

    Do this a few time and these people will get the message and for those who says this will stunt development? Wake the hell up. That will take more than penalties for illegal mangrove removal. It’s simple, you break the law/do something without permission.. you get punished!

  11. Anonymous says:

    But wait…isn’t this a sub-division?

  12. Anonymous says:

    magroves seem have more rights and protections here than 50% of the residents…

    • Anonymous says:

      As it should be!

      The Mangroves should be considered I ndigenous.

      These were here a long @#£& time before we came along and thrashed this little Island.

      Or, are the Mangroves considered non-Caymanians or Paper Caymanians?

      • Anonymous says:

        I think you should look at where you live and you will notice that your property was once full of mangroves. Do be a hypocrite please.

        Remember that 3/4 of grand cayman is mangroves. From Prospect, Red Bay, Tropical Gardens, Grand Harbor, South Sound, the Airport, industrial Park, the cricket field was all mangroves.

        The red bay land was zoned as low density residential, and central planning authority had gave permission to develop this same land from the late 70s early 80s. That same land was once cleared already.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Well it’s not like garden services on island even know how a proper garden service should work to be fair. But an excuse that they had no idea should be grounds to suspend their T&B.

    • Anonymous says:

      True, they are making money, right?

      They have an obligation to know!!

      The time for excuses and “didn’t knows” left with the last government.

      • Anonymous says:

        Having been in business a long time (25 years),
        Any new law that comes into place only reach the big companies. DOE will call the big landscaping companies and advise them but would never call the small guys.

  14. Anonymous says:

    If we are going to revitalize the mangroves, let’s not be hypocrites about it and just let this guy take the whole responsibility. Let’s urge the government to invoke an Eminent Domain initiatives and force EVERYONE down Selkirk, Abbey way, all the way to the Sailing Club to sell of their land and fancy houses back to Government (At a fair market value of course determined by the government) so we can replenish the mangroves fully.

    All in favor?

    • Anonymous says:

      2.19, you’re an American aren’t you.?
      Eminent domain is not in our laws.
      There is a “u” in favor.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I can help but notice that this private and paid-for lot, lot is surrounded by houses that destroyed the mangroves that were originally there.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ah, the good old if they did it I should get a pass too theory. Useful for all occasions, whether you are a politician committing a criminal offence and asking for no conviction to be recorded because others got off as well, through to clear violations of planning law, such as Ritz Carlton/Fin comparisons.

      • Anonymous says:

        We sell property and then want to tell the new landowners what they cant do?? So where is the law stopping him from clearling that piece of land???

        West baya.

  16. Anonymous says:

    It will be interesting to see what the DPP does with this type of offense. Seeing as going forward the DPP is supposed to start keeping statistics on how they handle reported crimes, perhaps they should keep them by category including environmental crimes.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hi CNS – Great graphic with the moving slider for before / after. Says a thousand words. (Like the unpermitted clearing of adjoining properties.) – Thanks

    • Anonymous says:

      The before land photo was taken in 2018, not 2021. DOE and other persons need to be more accurate with the photo and let people know that the before photo was taken in 2018, and there had been land clearing after 2018 photo.

  18. Anonymous says:

    IF I were MAB I’d reflect this back to the landowner. “They hired me to do X, that X needs a Permit is their problem.” Then let the court figure it out. One or both parties needs to be penalized. Properly. Also for the illegal-even-if-they-had-gotten-permission-in-advance clearing of other people’s property. If they had got permission it would be even more damming that MAB was at fault so now they can at least argue ‘see we didn’t know we need permits or even where we were supposed to clear’.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Gardening Services, LOL. Hey Jay, MAB is Nort Siders, what say you?

  20. Anonymous says:

    so people out here thinking they can clear land anywhere on island without approval…. And shame on the developers that chose this company without making them aware that they need to have approval before clearing…. Almost seems like that was their plan this whole time. Because now the land is cleared and they expect to be able to develop it. Overdevelopment in Cayman that isn’t sustainable is such a shame. We don’t need anymore new buildings. Perhaps we need to renovate the old and go green.

  21. Anonymous says:

    It’s past time to establish a cautionary example and disincentives: cancel or suspend MAB’s T&B and apply the prescribed fine. It’s completely implausible that anyone owning a bulldozer or back hoe, is unaware of the rules, regulations, and business responsibilities that come with owning that particular equipment.

  22. Anonymous says:

    This is all bullshit. It has been the case (and well understood for decades) that land clearing via mechanical means needs planning permission. It is incredible that a licensed company with heavy equipment would not know that. Can we please have some consistent and meaningful enforcement of our laws!

    Immigration, you given permits to anyone that then uses the people to break the law?

    Cha man!

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, because its the expat hired helps fault, right. Not the developers fault. Not the guy that owns and runs the landscaping companies fault. No siree bob. Its the minimum wage guy, because he is foreign, so its all his fault.

      • Anonymous says:

        The foreign national breaking our laws as part of their employment? Do you not think their employer should be cut off from more foreign labor?

  23. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately nothing will be done other than a slap on the wrist. MAB Gardening Services Ltd need to be fined.

    • Anonymous says:

      They need to be forced to purchase an equivalent area of mangrove wetland and donate it to the National Trust to be held in perpetuity. Same for the owner. Then they need to be fined.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Are infractions like these held against the proponent? Should these infractions reflect and be held against a company when they renew their business licenses? I think this should be treated like a criminal record.

  25. MP says:

    > they had no idea that they needed permission

    I’ll remember that line if I get caught committing an offence.

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