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Shark Hole cliff house excavation stopped

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A house is being built into a cliff in the Shark Hole area of Harrington Sound Road (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A “stop work” order has been placed on a controversial project to clear an area of Harrington Sound Road that was once protected as coastal reserve.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed that the “stop work” order was signed at the Shark Hole site in Hamilton Parish on July 22 owing to specific criteria under the Building Act 1988 23B (2) not being met.

The issue is under “active investigation” and the works – the development of a four-bedroom house and pool – will be halted pending the outcome of the investigation.

The spokesman said: “Work stopped when the owner, agent and contractor were aware of the notice.

“Concerning advising of the criteria not met, as these site issues are still under active investigation, we cannot conclusively confirm this.”

Kim Smith, the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said that she did not know the basis for the stop order but added that the organisation had questioned the Department of Planning about why there did not appear to be the required building permit number posted on the site.

BEST also shared a photograph with the department it had been sent that appeared to show evidence of either a “cave or void“.

Works on a new residence at Shark Hole on Harrington Sound. This photograph was sent to the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce that appears to show an opening in the cliff face (Photograph supplied)
This photograph was sent to the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce that appears to show an opening in the cliff face (Photograph supplied)

The home affairs ministry spokesman said: “The ministry can advise that the building inspector would have confirmed that the permit sign was posted to commence work.

“Should any failures in meeting any criteria be identified, the Development and Planning Act and the Building Act have many actions that may be taken. However, as the site is still under active investigation, no decisions have been made.

“Following the investigation, work may resume once the issuing authority lifts the stop work notice.“

A map showing the location of an apparent opening in the cliff face on Harrington Sound Road (Image supplied)

The Shark Hole site was rezoned as residential through the Tucker’s Point special development order more than ten years ago.

Before the granting of the 2011 SDO, the land was granted additional protection as a cave protection area and water resources protection area.

A planning officer wrote in a report that the lot had been approved for residential development by the SDO and the mandated studies had been carried out, including a geophysical report, which did not identify any caves on the property.

In a decision letter dated September 1, 2021, Larry Williams, said on behalf of the director of planning: “If during construction a previously undetected cave is discovered, the applicant shall cease all construction operations and immediately contact the Department of Planning to re-evaluate building options and agree on a suitable course of action. Construction operations shall not recommence until the approved option has been agreed in writing.”

The Bermuda Audubon Society sent a letter to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on July 11 asking if it had received and approved an Excavation Management Plan and Construction Environmental Management Plan for the site as well as plans for the swimming pool back wash and septic tank.

The department referred the concerns to the Department of Planning which said it was actively investigating a number of conditions that were not complied with.

Karen Border, the executive director of the Bermuda National Trust, said: “I don’t know if those are public documents and should be uploaded to the public portal, but they are not there to be seen.

“I do understand that the stoppage is due to a number of criteria not being met, not just one.”

Plans for the residence (Department of Planning)

Subsection 23B (2) of the Building Act 1988 states that: “Where it appears to the building official that any person carrying out a building operation has failed to comply with any provision of the relevant building code and the building official considers it necessary to exercise his powers under this subsection, he may prohibit any continuation of the building operation (such notice referred to as a ‘stop work notice’)“.

The endemic Bermuda Snowberry (Photograph by Alison Copeland)

Peter Drew, terrestrial conservation officer at the environment department, responded to submissions about three palmetto trees that will be impacted by the access which he said would be relocated, and to inquiries about the endemic Bermuda snowberry on the site.

Mr Drew said in a response to ways to mitigate impact on, and increase the planting of, snowberries: “If it cannot be avoided by design of a bridging way or other engineered feature, DENR would request the opportunity to take additional cuttings and collect seed. There is obviously a micro environment ideal for the snowberry thriving in this area as it continues to outcompete even aggressive invasive plant species.”

Architect notes on the approved plans said a patch for the plant would be created behind the house and that extra cuttings should be propagated for use elsewhere.

The construction of longtail igloos was approved as part of the project.

Karen Border, the executive director of the Bermuda National Trust (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The BNT and others objected to the Shark Hole development, which was approved by the Department of Planning.

Ms Border said last month that the development is a “prime example of the environmental damage that can arise from SDOs”.

She added: “Until there is a loud-enough outcry from the Bermuda public as a whole that will sway decision-makers to rule against such developments, we are likely to keep on seeing the desecration of Bermuda’s remaining open spaces.”

Background to the project

Plans to develop the Shark Hole property were submitted by Bernard Yanovich and Gillian Pinchin and approved last year by the Development Applications Board.

Planning documents show that objections to the plan were received from BEST, the Bermuda Audubon Society, the Bermuda National Trust and others.

The applicant responded to the objections stating that the plans fell within the limits of the SDO and noted that the home would take up 15.7 per cent of the lot while hard surfaces would cover 25.3 per cent.

The response letter said: “While consideration to the Bermuda ecosystem is a priority, it is the goal to utilise the site in the most efficient and effective way possible while still following the requirements stated in the Tucker’s Point Resort Residential Development (Hamilton and St George’s Parishes) Special Development Order (SDO) 2011.”

A planning officer wrote in a report that the lot had been approved for residential development by the SDO and the mandated studies had been carried out, including a geophysical report, which did not identify any caves on the property.

The report said that the development was proposed for the western side of the lot, which would allow it to avoid the majority of environmental features on the eastern side of the property.

The report said: “The concerns raised by the objectors are legitimate — in its current natural state, notwithstanding the invasive species and the detrimental impact wild seeded species such as casuarinas have on the landform, it does provide habitat.

“It is also fully acknowledged that while no caves were found during the geophysical investigation, the potential does exist they may be found during construction.

“A conservation management plan will never return the lot to its current state. However, it will introduce additional natives and endemics, while enhancing those that currently exist.

“Conditions have been added to deal with the discovery of a cave which may necessitate a redesign.”

The report author disagreed with objectors’ complaints about the size of the proposed building and said that the design was in keeping with other residences in the area.

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Published August 10, 2022 at 7:30 am (Updated August 10, 2022 at 4:41 pm)

Shark Hole cliff house excavation stopped

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