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ATV tour organiser handed conservation role

New role: Shane Hollis has accepted position on National Parks Commission (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

One of the men behind a controversial plan to run commercial quad bike tours in protected areas of the West End has been appointed to a conservation advisory body.

Shane Hollis was made a member of the National Parks Commission by Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, on March 16.

The same day, Colonel Burch told the House of Assembly that permission had been given for Mr Hollis’s all-terrain vehicle, or ATV, tours to go ahead on a one-year trial basis, despite hundreds of objections from the public.

The decision to allow the tours generated an outcry from the island’s environmental groups and Mr Hollis’s appointment to the commission has sparked further concern.

Kim Smith, executive director of Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said: “There really isn’t much to say about Mr Shane Hollis’s appointment on the Parks Commission, beyond that it’s a clear case of conflict of interest and, so, worthy of criticism.”

Jonathan Starling, executive director of Greenrock, said: “We can understand how many people will question the suitability of his appointment, especially with the proposed ATV business seeming to run contrary to the National Parks Act, and with the way the minister has handled this situation, in terms of undermining faith in the Government’s commitment to public consultation.”

Another environmentalist, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Unfortunately, for many of the 99.8 per cent of people who took the trouble to express their objections, this will be seen as another slap in the face.”

Colonel Burch did not respond to questions about the appointment by press time.

New Parks Commission chairman Scott Simmons told The Royal Gazette that any recommendation for the minister about the ATV plan would have been made by the commission before Mr Hollis became a member.

Mr Simmons, a Government MP, added: “Make no mistake, if the time comes that we have to deliberate on the ATV tours, I can assure you he will be asked to recuse himself. You wouldn’t expect him to be involved. We certainly would not have him as part of the decision-making process. I think he’s aware of that.”

The plan by Mr Hollis and his father Rudolph “Buddy” Hollis to run guided ATV tours of the Railway Trail and protected areas in Sandys led to opposition from residents, farmers and environmentalists.

More than 600 objections were submitted as part of a consultation on the proposal. Two people wrote in support.

Colonel Burch told MPs permission was granted because the Government believed the plan for “educational tours” would “find favour” with the constituency. He praised the “vision and steadfastness in detailed research and patience” displayed by the Hollis family.

The Bermuda National Trust “vehemently” objected to the proposal and added it was “wholly incompatible with the quality, character and function of these natural and historic sites”.

Colonel Burch said the vehicles would not traverse “virgin land” and would be kept on the Railway Trail and service roads.

The 12 members of the Parks Commission are appointed by the minister to advise on “matters affecting the long-term conservation and management” of the island’s national parks system.

Four lay members of the board do not have to be experts but must be users of the parks system or considered to be interested in historical, environmental and conservation matters.

Shane Hollis said yesterday: “Appointments to the commission are made at the discretion of the minister. I was invited to serve on the Parks Commission and I am honoured to do so.”

The commission’s recommendation to the minister on the ATV plan is not known.

Mr Simmons said the newly appointed commission held its first meeting on March 26 and the ATV issue was discussed because it appeared in the minutes of the previous meeting.

He added new members asked Mr Hollis questions about the tours, which made “absolute practical sense” because he had in-depth knowledge of the plan.

The Progressive Labour Party backbencher said: “They recognised that the decision had already been taken.”

Mr Simmons said he would take advice from the Ministry of Public Works on the release of commission minutes to the public.