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Environmental groups appeal to minister to stop Devonshire Marsh plans

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Island Construction headquarters on Middle Road (File photograph)

Environmental groups have called on the Minister of Home Affairs to overturn a decision to allow development on Devonshire Marsh.

Island Construction was given the green light by the Development Applications Board in August to erect three two-storey warehouse buildings near the company’s Middle Road headquarters by the junction with Parson’s Lane.

However, a coalition of the Bermuda National Trust, the Bermuda Audubon Society and the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce have launched an appeal hoping to halt the project.

In a joint statement the charity heads said: “For more than 20 years the BNT has been battling to uphold the protective zoning at this site, despite its history of industrial use, because of the ecological importance of the marsh in which it sits and Bermuda’s largest freshwater lens beneath its soil.

“Despite having turned down previous versions of this development application three times before, and an application for rezoning under the 2018 Bermuda Plan, the Development Applications Board has recently given the go-ahead for extensive additional development at this sensitive site, including three two-storey maintenance and storage buildings, five one-bedroom staff apartments, parking and a driveway.

“All of this is on a three-acre site on the marsh.”

Plans for the proposed new buildings at Island Construction. (Image from planning documents)

The organisations said the proposed development “well exceeds what would be permitted on protectively zoned property” and would not even be allowed had the site been zoned for industrial use.

“Ironically, permission has been given on the basis of the historical sifting of aggregate on the property, and yet aggregate sifting is not the proposed use for the site,” the joint statement added.

“It will now be a mix of industrial use — a base for trucking services including shipping and container haulage — and residential use that would not normally be allowed on an industrial site.”

Karen Border, the executive director of the BNT, Janice Hetzel, the president of the BAS, and Kim Smith, the executive director of BEST, said in the statement that Devonshire Marsh was the largest area of open space in Bermuda and contained the largest peat marsh habitat.

“It sits above the island’s largest freshwater lens. The marsh assists in purifying rainfall run-off from the roads, to become our drinking water,” the groups said.

“To allow the intensification of industrial use on this site threatens the marsh with increased fire risk, and increases the risk of environmental pollution in the marsh and water contamination.”

It is understood that the director of planning has recommended that the appeal be rejected and that the planning approval be allowed to stand, with the matter set to go before Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, in the near future.

Plans for the proposed new buildings at Island Construction. (Image from planning documents)

Island Construction submitted plans for the development last year, proposing the construction of three two-storey warehouse buildings along with a revised parking and transport layout and a conservation management plan for the property.

While the proposal sparked objections from environmental groups, a planning officer recommended the application for approval.

The planning officer’s report said: “The department acknowledges that supporting this expansion and intensification of industrial operations on open space reserve is compromising the application site’s conservation zoning, but maintain that it is the most practical and realistic option when compared to other alternatives.”

The officer noted that while the land was zoned for reserve use, the site had been used for industrial purpose since the 1950s and a 1991 court ruling found that industrial use of the site could continue.

While the report said one objector had suggested that the industrial operations should be moved to another site, that was unlikely given the court ruling.

“Instead, the department believes that a better approach is to allow the site to serve as an industrial site while taking mitigation measures to protect the surrounding nature reserves,” the report said. “The department believes that this proposal has achieved this.

“Another option would be to continue to allow the site to operate as it has done so for years.

“Given these circumstances, the department believes that supporting this proposal will improve the operations of the site to the benefit of the surrounding area, whilst incorporating an appropriate amount of landscaping and appropriately protecting the adjacent nature reserve.”

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Published December 02, 2022 at 7:54 am (Updated December 02, 2022 at 12:51 pm)

Environmental groups appeal to minister to stop Devonshire Marsh plans

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