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Environmental impact ‘poorly assessed’

Getting ready: Work is under way preparing Dockyard for the America’s Cup, but BEST is objecting to proposed development in the South Basin amid concerns about the effect on the environment (File photograph)

This is the second in a series of commentaries on the proposed development in the South Basin at Dockyard and why the Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce is objecting to it.

The main issue is the environmental impact of the development and how poorly that impact has been assessed.

Another key issue is the America’s Cup and how its urgency is being used to try to force some aspects of the development through without due process.

In the previous instalment, we outlined the aspects of the South Basin development and some of the issues. The next two instalments will focus on those planning processes that were followed, or not.

Government agencies are key to environmental protection

This project, based on 11 acres of ocean landfill, is big for Bermuda. This is the largest landfill project since the airport was built in the 1940s, from which Castle Harbour has still not fully recovered.

For developments of this scale, there are two key agencies and a development tool that should automatically come into play:

1, The Department of Planning (DoP) fields applications, consults with relevant government departments and condenses the pertinent issues for presentation to the Development Applications Board (DAB) for its approval or not

2, An environmental impact assessment and statement (EIA/EIS) designed to identify and reduce or eliminate environmental threats

Despite its heroic efforts to condense this complex project into digestible bites, the DoP let us down in several ways:

• Even though the original EIA/EIS was critically flawed in content and process, the DoP did not insist on more than superficial changes (we’ll come back to the EIA)

• Worse, the DoP failed to insist that either (i) its very comprehensive EIA guidelines be followed as was agreed¹ , or (ii) that the EIA authors be required to show (a) why they chose not to follow the DoP guidelines and (b) how the principles established in the DoP’s EIA guidelines would be upheld if the authors did not follow the guidelines

The DAB also let us down:

• Even though the DAB was informed (three times, according to the DoP) that the original EIA/EIS was “inadequate” to the degree that an addendum was required, the DAB failed to note that the EIA/EIS addendum applied solely to the landfill, thus leaving all aspects other than the landfill inadequately assessed

• The DAB also failed to give adequate scrutiny to the environmental consequences of encroachment by the industrial activity of the proposed end uses — particularly the impact on the adjacent marine environs, which are rated as a “9-10” on a scale of 1 to 11 for marine richness and productivity². By giving such a complex development “final approval” with so little information about the environmental impacts of boatyard and marina operations and the chemicals, solvents and processes involved, the DAB failed in its fiduciary duty

Need for valid environmental impact assessments for large-scale developments

Just how inadequate was that original EIA/EIS? We identified more than 40 flaws. Virtually every consulted government agency commented on its inadequacy, and ACBDA’s expert consultants had this to say:

“The need for this addendum is precipitated by substantive changes relating to the interim use as the AC35 venue and in the design of the proposed landfill, coupled with numerous critical shortcomings associated with both the content and the process by which the original EIA was developed. These shortcomings present an unacceptably high risk of delays arising from challenges to the permitting of this landfill and subsequent development, which may prejudice delivery of the America’s Cup.”³

[Note: the original EIA/EIS, a listing of its flaws and the emergency addendum EIA/EIS can be found on the BEST website www.best.org.bm]

Here is what we know:

• A boatyard/marina uses toxic materials and environmentally destructive industrial practices such as sandblasting, mechanical repairs and boat-bottom painting

• These processes and materials can compromise the health of workers and the surrounding environment

• The boatyard and marina impacts were inadequately assessed by the original EIA/EIS

• These impacts were not at all assessed by the emergency back-up EIA/EIS addendum

• Not one single word in the minutes of the DAB’s examination of the development addressed these critical environmental impacts

[Note: the minutes of the April 1, 2015 DAB meeting, at which this development was discussed and approval granted, can be found on the aforementioned BEST website]

BEST and its support for the America’s Cup

BEST had several meetings in March and April this year with the local America’s Cup organisation (ACBDA) and its consultant, Bermuda Environmental Consulting (BEC). They had become acutely aware that the original EIA/EIS was so flawed in content and process as to jeopardise the already compressed America’s Cup timetable that an emergency addendum EIA/EIS was commissioned to be added to the application.

While the emergency addendum EIA/EIS was quite rigorous in examining the impacts of the landfill, it dealt solely with the landfill and was deliberately silent on the impacts of the interim uses (AC Event Village) and end uses (marina, commercial boatyard, consolidation of Marine and Ports administration and operations).

• In the next instalment, BEST will go into more detail on the consequences of inadequate impact assessment on this project to Bermuda, its environment and reputation, and to the legacy of the 2017 America’s Cup.

• References

¹ Kim Bennet, assistant director of planning, professional communication, February 10, 2010.

² Sarah Manuel, et al, Department of Conservation Services: “Evaluation of data from the Bermuda Benthic Mapping, Monitoring and Assessment Programme for use in Marine Coastal Spatial Planning”, May 2010.

³ Bermuda Environmental Consultants, “Addendum to EIS”, page 3.