Stuart Hayward Addresses Hamilton Rotary Club

September 17, 2014

President of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce [BEST] Stuart Hayward was the guest speaker at the Hamilton Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday [Sept 16], speaking about various topics, including BEST’s latest campaigns and projects.

Mr. Hayward said, “Most often when people hear about BEST it is to do with some controversial issue. What many do not realise is that by far most of our work takes place “behind the scenes”, and is hardly considered newsworthy.

“Our mission statement is: “To preserve and enhance the quality of life in Bermuda for present and future generations by engaging with the community to advocate for sustainable management and development of the physical, social and economic environments.”

Mr. Hayward went on to address the many concerns that BEST has involved itself in including cell towers, bees and more. The situation involving trees being cut down arising at Ewing Street and behind the old Magistrates Court building were also highlighted.

Speaking on the planned new marinas, Mr. Hayward said, “Then there’s the multiple plans for mega-marinas [Dockyard, Morgan’s Point, St George’s Harbour and the Fairmont Hamilton Princess [nearing completion].

“The big problem is there’s an absence of policies and regulations that would consider the cumulative viability and effect of four marinas, all chasing an “iffy” market [imagine us building four separate airports on Bermuda].

‘We’re trying to encourage the authorities to be asking several questions: Are there sound business plans that justify multiple major alterations to our coastline, massive landfills (11 acres at Dockyard), and other combined environmental impacts?

“Is there a mechanism within the current regulatory structure to look at the environmental impact, not just of a single marina, but all of them together?”

Mr. Hayward’s full speech follows below:

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for your invitation to talk about BEST, the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, and the work we do.

Before I get into my subject, I want to tell a little of the story of Admiralty House Park. Many of you may not know about the plans of the government of the day (1970’s) to build a hotel and hotel school on the Admiralty House grounds. I was at the time Acting Director of “The Group”, an organisation based at Admiralty House. When we got wind of the hotel building plans we formed the Admiralty House Park Association and cooked up a scheme to hold a two-day free concert in the natural amphitheatre surrounding Clarence Cove.

Forty years ago, this month, over 6,000 people came to Admiralty House — the very first time it had ever been open to the public. Once Bermudians saw what they were about to lose, they balked against a hotel or any other development. This event, forty years ago, led to what we now know as Admiralty House Park. It also launched my advocacy for open spaces in Bermuda. Now, on to the BEST story

Most often when people hear about BEST it is to do with some controversial issue. What many do not realise is that by far most of our work takes place “behind the scenes”, and is hardly considered newsworthy.

Overview

Today I will speak about:

  • What we do
  • What we are doing now and how we do it
  • How you can help

What does BEST do

Our mission statement is: “To preserve and enhance the quality of life in Bermuda for present and future generations by engaging with the community to advocate for sustainable management and development of the physical, social and economic environments.” We are best known for our advocacy on behalf of the physical environment but there are also aspects of the economic and social environments that merit our attention.

BEST is registered Charity and Limited Liability Company, and is governed by a Board of Directors and run by a Management Team — all volunteers. Operations are in the hands of the two part-time staff members.

BEST addresses its mission through four main, occasionally overlapping areas of activity.

Number 1 is Responding to Events. That’s how we got our start. Our core process is to monitor Planning applications published in the official gazette (RG at this time) and respond as appropriate. The first public stance our formative group took was to protect the Botanical Gardens; our most recent stance involved the trees on Ewing and Reid Streets. In between, there are dozens of issues and developments where our interventions don’t become news, and hundreds where we don’t intervene at all.

The 2nd area of activity is Influencing Policy

We would rather do more than just react. Some examples of our efforts to influence policy:

  • We have once-yearly meetings with the Minister and Director of Planning to discuss possible improvements in policy and in process.
  • We made submissions to the Ombudsman’s investigation into SDOs (Special Development Orders) resulting in that topic being featured or included in four of her Reports.

The 3rd area, Education & Outreach includes a variety of public statements and public information events. We also produce position papers, and we distribute information via our website, Facebook and even Twitter.

Building Capacity is the 4th area of activity. That is to enable ourselves and other organizations to become more capable of fulfilling our respective missions. To this end we do ongoing strategic and succession planning and initiate relevant workshops.

How we do what we do [what we’re doing now]

Public commentary and other awareness-raising exercises

We publish position papers. Here is a sampling of published titles, the most recent being on the Gamble of Gaming. These are research papers. We have several volunteer researchers and each document is thoroughly vetted before being released. And while we have been challenged on occasion for our point of view, we have never been challenged on our facts. Of that we feel very proud. These are all accessible through our website.

BEST has hosted several public forums:

  • Our first was on Tourism and Sustainability that featured a stellar panel to discuss the issue.
  • We initiated and hosted a workshop on EIA Environmental Impact Assessments. Approximately 75 professionals: architects, developers, planners and environmentalists attended.
  • In 2012 we held a forum on freshwater supply titled “Bermuda’s Water Ways” that featured the documentary film, “Trusting Rain”.
  • This is the kind of thing we’d like to do more of.

Assisting stakeholders

Cell towers

Citizen activism

Neighbours concerned about the proliferation of cellphone reception/transmission towers sought our help. We walk a tight line, trying to be consultants rather than advisors. We provide meeting space, administrative support, an understanding of choices and possible consequences.

A regulatory tangle

This particular issue, telecommunications, is clouded by historic regulatory problems. Early mis-steps, for example, resulted in unfairness in the allocation of a resource called “spectrum”.

Health issues

The main dispute between the regulators and the neighbours centre around health issues, and whether decisions are well-enough informed. As an example of the gap in oversight, it is unclear who, if any individual or agency monitors potentially dangerous cell tower radiation once they are installed.

Bees

Most people don’t give it much thought, but bees are the pollinators for up to one-third of the foods humans consume. Recent occurrences of the collapse of bee hive populations has caused concern among bee-keepers and farmers globally and locally. One culprit in bee die-offs is a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, now the world’s most widely used type of insecticide. In follow-up to the Bee Fair held in April this year, a BEST team is working with the Department of Environmental Protection to determine if a ban on neonicotinoids, and/or other steps, will be most effective in assuring sustainability in bee populations and in the honey and food pollination they provide us.

Trees

Ewing Street

Plans to transplant and re-transplant the trees on the Ewing street median aroused concerns in the neighbourhood. BEST was asked for assistance. In preparation for the transplant, the Corporation of Hamilton lopped off all leafed branches. On transplant day the entire BEST staff (two people) showed up to demonstrate [no volunteers were available at that hour on a work day]. You will note that two people were able to exhibit six signs.

As the big machines arrived to yank the first tree out of the ground, Ewing Street resident Sherma Simmons took one of our signs, stepped across the trench and stood in front of the tree. The police were called but she wouldn’t budge. She said, “When you tell me the tree stays, then I’ll go.”

The standoff held until the CoH agreed to a 24-hour suspension, enough time for the residents to get a Court injunction. Eventually, the Corporation agreed that the trees will stay. This action reminded me of the quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

BEST has since met with the Corporation and made several policy suggestions. Stay tuned, this story is not over.

Magistrate’s Court

Barely a week later came news that the Parks Department was going to remove a tree from behind the old Magistrate’s Court building. After several phonecalls, I was informed by the Works Minister and the Director of Parks that there would be no removals, only pruning. Two days later, in addition to the pruning of one tree, another — a mature Royal Poinciana — was cut down. The Minister apologised but all the apologies in the world can’t resurrect a tree already cut-down. She has committed to improving internal communications.

As for the tree, see for yourself whether it was “rotten.” Trees frequently get hollow segments — birds and animals use these for housing. Hollow doesn’t mean rotten.

Just how valuable is a tree?

Some years ago a study done in Asia calculated the monetary value of the services provided by a tree over a 50-year lifespan. Dr. Wolfgang Sterrer, renowned local scientist, converted those values into Bermuda dollars. If we had to pay to replicate those services that trees do [for free], this is what we would have to pay, $1.6 million. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that these costs have risen significantly since they were first calculated.

Before we run out of trees to cut…

Rather than planning to replace a tree after it has been cut down, we would prefer to see an aggressive schedule to plant trees. Save Open Spaces [SOS] has thousands of tree seedlings (over a thousand rare yellowwoods, I understand).

Here’s an innovative idea: How about a policy that if you buy a car you have to plant and nurture a tree as a way of compensating for the carbon your car will emit? Could help.

Other species

In addition to trees, we need better protection for other species that are fellow-inhabitants of this Island. Species like the longtail, the skink and the cahow — and of course bluebirds.

Behind the scenes work:

Our concern for and work toward reforming energy policy, for example, involves meetings and consultations that take place privately and without fanfare. Our co-consultants trust that we will uphold confidentiality and maintain total discretion, so I will say no more about that.

BEST works with other stakeholders:

Many issues are “cross-boundary” issues that involve other environmental or social organisations, government departments, the business sector, or even international bodies. We are a member of Bermuda’s Environmental Coalition, we have a constructive and entirely cordial relationship with environment-related government departments, and we are respected by the media for our reliable and cogent statements. We work to strengthen these relationships.

Direct actions:

Petitions — a useful awareness-raising tool

We initiated a petition on Southlands and handed over binders containing letters and petitions — over 3,200 signatures to then Minister Neletha Butterfield. A petition to protect Warwick Long Bay gathered over 5,000 signatures and was presented to Members of Parliament on the front steps of the House of Assembly. Petitions by themselves rarely move decisions.

Onsite demonstrations and other innovations

Ewing Street was one kind of demonstration.

Botanical Gardens

With The Botanical Gardens campaign, we invited members of the community to wear green one day in support of the campaign. This slide shows the senior and junior schools at Saltus wearing green, and a group of us standing at Crow Lane with Johnny Barnes [I’ll never do that again].

Southlands

For the campaign to preserve Southlands we hosted a concert and rally at Astwood Park. For innovation, we wrapped ourselves in yellow caution tape at the entrance and “declared” the site an environmental crime scene.

Overall, our actions prompted the government to offer a swap of the near-pristine Southlands property for “brownfield” at Morgan’s Point — a win-win-win solution for the developers, the government, and the people of Bermuda. We are now waiting for Southlands to join Admiralty House as one of Bermuda’s stock of public parklands.

Legal action:

This aspect of BEST’s activities is the most demanding, reserved for the most egregious cases and requires the deepest analysis before embarking. We can only pursue the most clear-cut cases, where the evidence almost assures us of a victory. We literally cannot afford to lose.

We have taken cases to the Supreme Court three times, with three victories.

At Warwick Long Bay and on Spice Hill Road, the Court ruled decisively in our favour. In the latest case, protecting conservation land at Tucker’s Point Resort (TPR), even though we won on two different fronts, we are facing unanticipated costs.

The Court quashed the Minister’s decision, a clear win for BEST. The Court also ordered the Minister to conduct a hearing to reconsider all the points we made, that’s a win too because the Court determined that some things that were excluded in the initial hearing must now be included, and some things that happened should not have. However, the legal costs for BEST to be represented at this upcoming hearing are, well, a challenge.

What’s coming?

With some issues, we know something’s coming down the pipeline, but there isn’t enough for us to get traction. One example is the proposal to dredge the shipping channels. We have been consulted about the EIA but the project is creeping along below the radar screen. We just have to keep our eyes open.

Then there’s the multiple plans for mega-marinas (Dockyard, Morgan’s Point, St George’s Harbour and the Fairmont Hamilton Princess [nearing completion]. The big problem is there’s an absence of policies and regulations that would consider the cumulative viability and effect of four marinas, all chasing an “iffy” market [imagine us building four separate airports on Bermuda].

We’re trying to encourage the authorities to be asking several questions:

  • Are there sound business plans that justify multiple major alterations to our coastline, massive landfills (11 acres at Dockyard), and other combined environmental impacts?
  • Is there a mechanism within the current regulatory structure to look at the environmental impact, not just of a single marina, but all of them together?

So that’s the short version of the BEST story

We trust you’ll agree that BEST has become the go-to NGO for tackling the tough environmental issues. We walk, and talk softly but carry a fairly big stick. Now the question is…

What can you do?

      • If you think BEST is doing good work for current and future residents and visitors;
      • If you want to invest in a sustainable future for Bermuda;
      • Confidentiality guaranteed;
      • Contact me, Stuart Hayward at 704-4334 or stuart@best.org.bm
      • We can help you help us.

 

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Comments (5)

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  1. swing voter says:

    Gotta hand it to Stuey…..no longer considered a pesky nemesis. I tip my hat to you Sir!

  2. Jeremy Deacon says:

    Is there a law that says when a project has been completed that landscaping has to be carried out using endemic species of flora and fauna?

  3. Thanks to B.E.S.T. we today have many things that can’t be replaced. On behalf of others like myself, I wish to thank you Mr. Stuart Hayward for the perseverance you’ve shown in sustaining many memories of our Island home…

  4. Puma says:

    Wow…I vote that we eject oba and install rotarians in govt. They really are moving forward…

  5. Stuart Hayward says:

    So much of our Island (environment, geology, culture, vista) is unique and far more valuable than we know, and worth our efforts to protect and preserve.

    Thanks, all, for the supportive comments.

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