Posted on May 1, 2023
The request by a speculative developer of a potential private retirement home to dredge the North Sound seabed to get cheap fill for the project should be rejected, the Department of Environment has urged in a review of the coastal works application. Technical experts detailed the environmental disaster such dredging would cause and said that if the project isn’t viable without destroying acres of publicly-owned natural and undisturbed seabed, it should not be approved.
“The precedent and environmental effects of permitting a developer to destroy the marine environment in order to access cheaper fill to move off-site are unjustifiable,” the DoE said in its review of the proposed dredging.
“The developer should instead procure market-rate fill from licensed quarries or an alternative viable site for the retirement home. Allowing a private developer to develop a quarry on public property — the Crown seabed — undermines the licensed quarrying activities that fall under the Development and Planning Regulations, the land-use planning system and the government’s duty to preserve the marine environment for the entire Cayman Islands.”
The DoE detailed the severe detrimental environmental impacts of the proposed project on healthy mangroves and the seabed. If the coastal works licence for the developers, Pierce Holdings (Cayman) Ltd, was approved, over six acres of mangrove habitat and 2.6 acres of sensitive, publicly-owned natural and undisturbed seabed would be lost.
“The primary direct and irreversible impact of dredging is the absolute physical removal and permanent loss of the ecologically productive bottom substrate,” the DoE explained in the extensive review. “Dredging has also been known to change water circulation, tidal flow, and water levels, as well as allowing seawater inundation of land and augmenting the likelihood of creating anoxic (oxygen deprived) waters on the sea floor of the borrow pits and canals.”
Even though the applicant has indicated the use of silt screens, the DoE said previous projects have shown it is just not possible to eliminate the impact of the sediment plumes generated during a dredging project of this scale, particularly when the sediments contain a high percentage of silt, as is typical of the nearshore sediments in the North Sound
“The habitat in the footprint of the proposed channel consists of dense seagrass beds and consolidated coarse sediments colonised with marine algae, sea grasses, sponges, and coral colonies. It is a valuable marine habitat that has remained relatively undisturbed, and following historical dredging projects, represents a now scarce habitat for the North Sound, which typically support a variety of fauna living in sediments, invertebrate and fish communities,” the experts said.
In the application, the developers indicated that the purpose of dredging is to cut the fill costs for a proposed assisted living complex, under the Greta’s Grotto brand, in West Bay on a low-lying mangrove wetland site located at Block 8A Parcels 86 and 96 near Barkers to the east of Papagallo Pond. There is no planning permission application for this project or for any development on the site where they wish to dredge.
But the developers appear to want to use land they own at Block 20C Parcel 176 in George Town to dredge a large navigational channel through the North Sound to connect to a man-made lake on the parcel and access fill.
The DoE urged Cabinet, which makes the decisions about coastal works applications, not to grant a licence and pointed out a number of options open to the developer has.
“The precedent of this project is unacceptable, as there are no exceptional circumstances which signal the need to grant this developer access to cheaper fill through impacts to the marine environment,” the DoE stressed. “It would likely open the door to all other developers who would like to find cost-savings for materials and look to the publicly-owned natural resources for their own profit.”
The DoE said it does not support dredging in the North Sound and points out the ongoing impact that historic dredging has already had there with the loss of habitat and marine life that has never recovered.