DoE stresses problems with current coastal setbacks

| 12/02/2024 | 62 Comments
South Sound during the surge (photo credit: DoE)

(CNS): The Department of Environment has undertaken a review of properties damaged by last week’s powerful Nor’wester, which brought high seas and near galeforce winds. The damage to these coastal structures caused environmental, financial and personal loss, and the DoE has received footage and inquiries about the vulnerability of these properties. In many cases, when planning applications were made for them, the department had advised against waiving the setbacks.

The DoE said that generalised coastal setbacks are not appropriate to protect the shoreline or the properties, and planning regulations need to be amended.

The DoE has created an interactive map reflecting their review of the technical assessments provided on a number of the developments along the western shore of Grand Cayman, which experienced particularly severe impacts from high energy wave action and storm surge.

“The DoE is regularly consulted on development projects under delegated authority of the National Conservation Council (NCC), as outlined under section 41 of the National Conservation Act (NCA), which mandates government entities to consult with the Council on any decisions which may have an adverse effect on the environment,” a spokesperson from the DoE said.

“Our team of environmental and sustainability experts provide written technical assessments on a project basis to the originating entity, though the vast majority of these assessments are not legally binding and are recommendations only.”

Developers of one of the new projects on Northwest Point that was badly hit had been advised during the planning stage to move the development back significantly due to the potential for the sea to damage the property in a storm, which is exactly what happened. However, the CPA had disagreed with the DoE’s technical experts without any explanation and waived the setbacks as the developers had requested.

In another case, also along North West Point, a project was granted planning permission in 2022. The developers had not applied for a coastal setback waiver, but due to evidence of past sea inundation, the DoE had advised that this was a case where the general coastal setback was insufficient and explained in detail why. That advice was also ignored by the CPA, which approved the project without any reference to it.

Throughout the time that CNS has been following and documenting planning decisions, particularly those relating to the intensive coastal development over the last decade, we have repeatedly seen the DoE give detailed and technical analysis and warnings about potential damage when applicants seek waivers or where 50ft coastal setbacks on the ironshore is obviously inadequate.

But we have also seen the advice to mitigate potential problems by building further back from the shoreline or changing the way a project is being built generally ignored, which is noted on the interactive map.

The experts said that factors that should be considered include coastal type, elevation, location in relation to windward or leeward sides of the island, the presence or absence of a shallow coastal lagoon fronted by a protective fringing reef, and the presence of deep water close to shore.

“We created a map which presents DoE/NCC’s original technical review and how the review was incorporated into decisions related to coastal development, along with the publicly circulated video clips showing what was experienced at those locations on 6 February,” the DoE said. “The results show how critically important it is to not generalise coastal setbacks but instead to take account of all factors which contribute to the vulnerability of a particular location to wave action and coastal inundation.”

The department is hopeful that the sustainability ministry’s proposal for a fixed coastal setback reference line along Seven Mile Beach, based on long-term scientific data, will be considered for immediate implementation to help guide future developments. The experts said that planning officials should apply a consistent policy for all proposed coastal development, which should at least meet the current minimum setbacks until the planning regulations are amended to include a coastal setback map.

See the full map here.

Click on the pins to see the details of each of the properties, including the footage of damage, the full details of the DoE’s submissions to the CPA and its response.

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

Comments (62)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    CPA is an absolute joke and disgrace to the Cayman Islands.

  2. Anonymous says:

    * New Price * – *now* enjoy *even more unusual sights and sounds * & stunningly unique views of a coastal defence system- where poured concrete seamlessly fuses into granite riprap and tied-in boulders. Feel the gentle vibrations as white horses slam into the shoreline and the cool salty mists your luxury SUV, wake up and say- what a boost!

    Presenting white horses at {insert bad geographical location]

  3. Anonymous says:

    Juicy the amount of litigation this one has the potential to spin off, locally and internationally, civil and perhaps criminal too! grab the popcorn!

    • Johnny Canuck says:

      11:51, There will not be any juicy litigation as it is caveat emptor when you buy property. The onus is on the buyer to do the due diligence with a lawyer before buying. When I bought my place 10 years ago in the Seven Mile Beach Corridor, I did all my due diligence. It cost a bit but was worth it.

      I have no sympathy for people who but into real estate agents and their fast talking property descriptions here.

      Too many babes in the woods around this island.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Buyer beware” is an easy way to pass the buck. At what point do we say as a country, building on the coast presents undeniable risks to safety and property that can be avoided through appropriate building standards? Why is NOBODY seeing this as the wakeup call for proper SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT practices being the standard instead of a nuisance?

        I honestly hope someone sues CPA/Planning and the developers for willfully disregarding the bare minimum of advice to protect life and property. It’s called negligence.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yeah, why aren’t they suing CPA for allowing them the variances that they requested, against every suggestion of the experts? 🙄

          Who dresses you in the morning? Do you sue them when your socks are mismatched?

  4. Anonymous says:

    classic civil service nonsense with two government departments not even remotely on the same page.
    heads will roll for this mess….not!
    welcome to wonderland

    • doodlebug says:

      One gov’t dept (i.e. the DoE) appears to be on the right page.
      The CPA (not a gov’t dept, a bunch of amateurs usually involved in the construction industry) apparently can’t read DoE advice. Or chooses to ignore it. We should be asking: WHY?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Too close to the sea , my friends.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The future of Cayman economic viability hinges on insurance premiums. Specifically the availability of mortgage policy cover, and reinsurance attachments points. Cayman’s domestic industry of professionals must assist our local government, in understanding how dire and precarious this market is, and that if pulled, could call outstanding mortgages immediately on all property with exposure to ocean front and canal. Nor’Westers, like the one last week, used to be freak secondary risks, but they are now primary claims. It’s already happening in the USA. There’s an article in FT on it today. If mortgages are no longer widely available, or at affordable premiums, then there are no more skilled work force hires, no finance industry, and no office tenants. Certainly no real estate boom. What remains are unworkable CIG debt service obligations, territorial bankruptcy, and hat-in-hand groveling to the FCO. CIG could look ahead and put a lid on this with its own sovereign-backed insurance entity, calibrated with actuarial data specific to Cayman, and not the wider region of risk. Understanding the central threats, and holding this show together must be the primary mission of our governments. They truly can’t be sleep walking and rubber stamping as in the past.

  7. Alan says:

    I love the way these brokers describe waterfront properties…. I wonder how soon this one will sell…

    Imagine waking up to the soothing sound of waves gently lapping against the shore and being greeted by breathtaking panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea. This west-facing lot promises not only a prime location but also a front-row seat to natures daily masterpiece incredible sunset views.

    • Anonymous says:


    • Anonymous says:

      It’s not aging well this week.

    • Anonymous says:

      Amended :
      “ Want some excitement in your home ownership? Look no further than this stunning iron shore frontage unit, built below grade level to enhance the view. The disappearing edge swimming pool will do exactly that in the first double barrel nor-wester in winter. You will be so close to the sea, you will feel like you are in it “.
      “You can sit on the luxurious patio and watch the system roll in on your phone, as well as in your kitchen, just before you evacuate, via the strata provided fiber optic internet connection “.
      “ Contact our sales associate listed below for more information , preferably before the next storm season “.

    • Anonymous says:

      Imagine waking up to the soothing sound of waves gently lapping against your bed, and being greeted by breathtaking panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea as the sea carries you into its warm welcoming bosom.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Keep up the great work DOE.
    This type of documentation and evidence paints the picture well.

    This falls under the category of Pure Gold!!!

    • doodlebug says:

      Agreed, DoE doing a great job of trying to stop the stupidity of developers and the CPA. I much admire their efforts. Well done Gina and gang.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think this is a perfect example of how profits influence decisions.

    CNS, is it possible to get the qualifications of the CPA members, as they seem to have more knowledge and expertise on these Costal matters than those who are given this responsibility.

    I’m sure they have some scientific, engineering and environmental background.

    • Anonymous says:

      The CPA is required to adhere to the laws placed in front of them. Elections have consequences.

    • Jus Dis says:

      Someone at the CPA trough got hit with that stone! The vast majority of those at the CPA (past and present) are NOT adequately qualified to sit at such a body. In fact, most have been, and continue to be, very much apparently, conflicted! This as the CPA continues to be very heavily weighted with persons involved in the construction industry.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Short memories and dumb money.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Go DoE. They’ve just handed so many people their collective asses, it’s great to behold!

  12. Anonymous says:

    anyone know what happened at the dolphin detention centre.

    • Anonymous says:

      dolphins are still being detained…even though they got very hopeful the storm might grant them their freedom

  13. Anonymous says:

    Let the sea take it back and let the banks feel the pain!

    • Anonymous says:

      We will all feel the pain with the increase in property insurance premiums.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sometimes the insurance is just canceled mid-term without the option of paying higher premiums, and the mortgage charge is called and immediately due, even as the asset goes nil bid. Hard to attract and retain professional employees in that landscape. There goes the Finance pillar, and all of the CIG debt service and payroll. Already happening in competitive US oceanfront markets.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not the banks. The owners in those complexes. What would make you think the banks would feel pain from this?

    • Anonymous says:

      Bluff land on the solution.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I think the lesson in this for the normal person is that we should see the DOE notes for we choose to buy into any development. We shouldn’t listen to what the developers and realtors tell us – they are just after our money. There is a lot of good info in that interactive map that I’m sure would have made a lot of buyers choose to buy elsewhere.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you like the paint job on the car and how you look in it, there’s no need to ask a mechanic to check it out.

    • Anonymous says:

      Those notes are published in the minutes of the CPA and publicly available

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m sure the realtors offer that up to every prospective buyer without it being requested (repeatedly).

  15. Anonymous says:

    Greed, stupidity, and ignorance are a heady mix!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Elite work by DOE. Bravo to all!

  17. EYES WIDE SHUT says:

    All MP’s and current and former Cabinet Members and all planning consultants should be publicly asked if they understand the meaning of a having a pecuniary interests in these projects. Start with the current government and go back 25 years. Their answers will shock the country.

    KT and Alden’s PPM sold out this country and Caymanians even worse than McKeeva’s UDP. The new government is no different. As a result, developers are all spoilt because they understand what it takes to control all of our policians and key civil servants that drive the projects and policies in key departments the relevant ministries. Corporate Cayman and members of CIREBA are all culpable.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The reasons for all the crazy decisions is simple…”FOLLOW the $$$$”

  19. Anonymous says:

    Great website by DOE

    The truth is there for all to see

  20. 9th Generation Caymanian says:

    Thank you DOE and Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie. It is important to get all sides of the discussion out in the public with the facts and technical advice shred in the public domain.

    For those of us not choosing to live in these areas prone for flooding and other disasters; our insurance rates should not increase to pay for the folly and arrogance of certain wealthy developers and the special interests groups that run CIREBA.

    It is time for the willfully ignorant CPA board, planning department and the politicians that are controlled largely by the political funding of developers all year round. This group get all special treatment and multimillion dollars concessions and rebates from these projects from successive corrupt governments going back at least thirty years.

    Is it a coincidence that housing for Caymanians particularly low to medium income projects that should be reserved for Caymanians only never get any favorable consideration but all the projects by wealthy developers for wealthy people are the priority. Caymanians will soon be living on reservations out in Bodden Town, North Side and East End if this policies and crazy decisions by the CPA continue to be approved.

    Time for the madness to stop or those living the life of luxury absorb all costs associated for the choices they make. Every Caymanian knows building your house on sand or near the water is a disaster waiting to happen.

    • Anonymous says:

      The reservations comment has historical context in America. The Indians were forced off their native and fertile lands to the badlands of the midwest and the deserts.

  21. Natty Dread says:

    The environment getting real Hostile round here now! Bout time we feel the consequences of the actions of the chosen few nah tru Gov?

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s planning Laws and regulations, and there’s DOE advice.
      Laws and regulations, (compulsory,) always supersede advice, (optional.)
      Easy choice when the Laws and regulations are more user friendly than the advice.
      Change the Laws….that’s my advice.

  22. Anonymous says:

    A drop the microphone moment for DOE here I think. For the new Sunset Point in West Bay (next to Macabuca) juxtaposing the DOE against the Planning comments, with the video of the property under a few feet of water is telling!

    Good luck to these properties with even a very mild Tropical Storm passing to the west of Grand Cayman (such as a late season storm moving from south to north) producing incoming northwest waves!

    If you want to build on the coast, you need setbacks and elevation (such as a much higher foundation).

  23. Anonymous says:

    if i was a bank loaning money to a developer, i would ask for the DOE report first.

  24. Anonymous says:

    na-na na-na na.
    told you so

  25. Ray says:

    Another case of elected or appointed officials making decisions contrary to the advice of those who know what they are talking about. Cayman is not alone. The United States routinely has ignorant government officials making bad decisions. I feel your pain

  26. Anonymous says:

    So many instances of developers and CPA boards ignoring good advice. So many occurrences of the consequences of this action.
    Yet both of these groups continue to do so.
    The time is coming when those ultimately effected, purchasers, are going to sue both parties based on those actions and being sold a faulty product. When that happens maybe those responsible will actually pay attention.

    • Anonymous says:

      There is no real basis for suing these parties if you are a buyer. If you buy next to water (particularly open ocean) you should know that if the water is pushed up by wind it might reach your place.

      As a buyer, you have to balance between enjoying a fantastic, near water view, with the risk of water inundation. Your choice buyer.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thats like saying that as a buyer I should know that wind pushing against a cement wall it might push the wall over. So no one else but me is responsible if the wall is built without proper engineering principles. At some point someone – developer or Planning – certified the house as built to minimum safe standards. Whether those are steel in the wall or setbacks from the sea, neither should be a reason for my home to crumble in a gale.

        If you want to make a ‘buyer beware’ claim then lets post ‘not safe for human habitation during gales’ on those buildings that you apparently know are unsafe but have been approved by Planning anyway. Then I can “balance between enjoying a fantastic, near water view, with the risk of water inundation”.

        • Anonymous says:

          Except that there was nothing there built without proper engineering principles. Everything was built to one of the highest standards in the world, able to withstand major hurricanes. It was just built in a dumbshit place, where none of that matters: right on the edge of the water.

          • Anonymous says:

            Bet those hurricane glass companies never thought people would be stupid enough to build so close to the sea in a tropical storm region.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Planning laws with never change with jon-jon and the dump truck driver in cabinet

  28. Anonymous says:

    DOE, – top tip, you’re almost sounding like Mr Walton to end the violence otherwise gangstas may end up getting killed or going to prison. Those this applies to are hearing you but nobody’s listening 😔


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