“It is our sincere hope that the Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency’s proposal for a fixed coastal setback reference line along Seven Mile Beach based on long-term scientific data be considered for immediate implementation to help guide future developments.”
The Department of Environment
(CMR) After last week's unusual Nor'Wester with high seas and near-gale force winds causing flooding across the Cayman Islands, the Department of Environment (DoE) has warned of the need to have coastal setback lines implemented, especially along Seven Mile Beach.
This warning comes amid concerns that the UPM government may want to “water down” the National Conservation Law due to a recent court battle between the National Conservation Council and the Central Planning Authority (CPA).
Several coastal properties across the islands suffered damage with environmental, financial and personal consequences as a result of flooding last week.
The DoE said during and after the storm, it received several photos and videos through social media depicting devastating damage to property, accompanied by questions about the vulnerability of building on the coast.
“This prompted us to review the technical assessments provided by the Department of Environment (DoE) for a number of those developments along the western shore of Grand Cayman, which experienced particularly severe impacts from high energy wave action and storm surge,” the Doe stated in a release.
The DoE created a map that 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 February 6th. See Map here.
In one particular case, in March 2021, the DoE was consulted on the planning application for a residential building located on South Church Street. However, the proposed development did not comply with the minimum required setback as per the Development and Planning Regulations.
The DoE said in March 2021, it was a also consulted on the planning application for another affected property, an apartment complex located on North West Point Rd. This property also did not comply with the minimum required setback as per the Development and Planning Regulations.
There were also properties that complied that were affected by the recent poor weather conditions.
The DoE said it is regularly consulted on development projects under the 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 that may have an adverse effect on the environment.
Their 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.
The recent flooding of coastal properties shows how critically important it is to not generalize coastal setbacks but instead to take account of all factors that contribute to the vulnerability of a particular location to wave action and coastal inundation, the DoE explained.
At a minimum, the following factors should be considered: 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, the DoE stated.
The DoE further stated that until the Cayman Islands Planning Regulations are amended to include a coastal setback map that is based on consideration of these factors, “it is our sincere hope that the Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency’s proposal for a fixed coastal setback reference line along Seven Mile Beach based on long-term scientific data be considered for immediate implementation to help guide future developments and that a consistent policy be applied by the planning officials of all proposed coastal development having to at least meet the currently specified minimum setbacks.”