Environmental Impact Assessment not public for Havers area land reclamation

The content originally appeared on: The BVI Beacon

A company named Old Fort Limited has begun a land reclamation project next to the Sir Francis Drake Highway near Havers, but details about the company and its plans for the reclaimed land are sparse.

And while planning officials have often publicised environmental impact assessments for previous projects, the Town and Country Planning Department declined to send the Beacon a copy of Old Fort’s EIA or its application for “detailed development permission.”

“We cannot provide a copy of the EIA as this document is considered to be private,” Chief Planner Greg Adams wrote in a Feb. 16 email.

“Since this project was not the subject of a public hearing, this document along with the plans are considered to be intellectual property of the applicant.”

Although Mr. Adams previously said the department had been told of plans to build a boat storage yard in that area, the documents that were released by the TCPD provide few details as to what the company envisions.

In an initial application for development permission, submitted on behalf of Old Fort Limited on April 29, 2019, planning and development consultant Jerome Fahie did not explain the proposed land use, though in the “description of project(s)” section he wrote “N/A” by questions about buildings to be constructed there.

The only other descriptions included in that section noted that the project would involve one plot with an area of roughly four acres, though another section of the application further stated that it would cost an estimated $1 million.

Development permission

On May 23, 2019, The Planning Authority granted “outline development permission” to the project, and seven days later Mr. Adams wrote Old Fort Limited a letter explaining that this “approval in principle” was subject to several conditions.

These conditions included the submission of a “limited” EIA, a seabed lease, and a more comprehensive planning application called an “application for detailed development permission.”

The reclamation could not commence until the detailed application was approved by the Planning Authority, Mr. Adams wrote.

On Friday, Mr. Adams stated that after the “in-principle” application was approved, “an application with additional details, including an EIA, was submitted, reviewed and approved.”

Though he declined to provide the EIA or the detailed application, the TCPD did send the Beacon a Dec. 16, 2020 letter approving the detailed application and allowing Old Fort to proceed subject to additional conditions.

According to that letter, Old Fort was required to pay for a “special inspector or environmental monitoring officer” who must be approved by the Planning Authority before the land reclamation began and submit regular reports to the authority.

The letter added, “The special inspector shall pay special attention to all the potential impacts & recommended mitigation measures contained in the EIA report.”

These measures included the “transplantation of coral species that have been classified as endangered;” and the identification and conservation of endangered and protected species and trees often found along the coastline, such as white mangroves.

EIA withheld

But the details about what plants and animals inhabited the work site, and how the developers plan to care for them, are not publicly available.

Last week, Mr. Adams asserted that although his department has publicly disseminated EIAs for “major applications” in the past, the decision to withhold the EIA for this project does not represent a policy shift.

“The notion of ‘private’ EIAs does not speak to a new policy,” Mr. Adams stated in a Friday email.

Mr. Adams noted that EIAs are not listed in the section of the Physical Planning Act 2004 outlining the materials the TCP is required to keep as part of a public register.

Like architecture plans, he wrote, EIAs “are deemed to be intellectual property of the applicants, which my office has a duty to protect.”

The public register section of the Physical Planning Act does list “applications for a grant of development permission,” as well as “decisions on applications … and any conditions attached to development permissions.”

Though the act does not explicitly state whether an EIA is part of the application for development permission, another section headed “Requirement for further information” seems to imply as much.

The section states that an applicant shall provide any additional information — such as EIAs or economic feasibility studies — that the chief planner specifies in writing.

“The application shall be treated as having been made on the date when the [additional] information was received,” the section adds.

Old Fort Limited

Old Fort Limited’s leadership is unclear as well.

On Feb. 15 an employee at the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs said the agency did not have a trade licence on file for that company, and Old Fort Limited appears not to have a public website or other obvious online presence.

On Monday, Mr. Fahie, the agent who signed the planning application, declined to comment or give this reporter contact information for the people behind Old Fort.

The company has been around since at least 1973, the year it signed a 99-year lease with then-Governor Derek-George Cudmore, according to the Land Registry in the Land and Survey Department.

Late former premier Ralph O’Neal apparently had a stake in the company at one time, according to an Oct. 10, 2011 Gazette that listed him as a shareholder in Old Fort Limited that year.