Members of the BVICCHA have called for a Tourism Master Plan. Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

The government appears to be moving ahead with long-promised legislation that would dramatically reform the largely outdated patchwork of laws currently in place for protecting the territory’s delicate natural environment.

A Cabinet-approved “Green Paper” on the proposed Environmental Management and Climate Adaptation Bill, released on July 16 by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, outlines government’s approach to the “establishment of overarching legislation to safeguard the environment in keeping with the constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment that should be afforded to every resident of the Virgin Islands.”

Such legislation has been promised for at least 15 years. The territory’s current environmental framework consists of a patchwork of largely outdated laws as diverse as the 1985 Beach Protection Ordinance, the 1997 Fisheries Act, and the 2006 National Parks Trust Act.

In the mid-2000s, the newly launched Law Reform Commission set out to tackle the issue, working with a committee of stakeholders to draft a comprehensive environmental management bill.

Since then, various iterations of the law have been promised in successive speeches from the Throne, but no bill has been brought before the legislature.

Last week in the House of Assembly, Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley explained his plans for the law.

“While we have put in place legislation which has addressed our national parks and our fish stocks, we have not put in place overall environmental legislation which demonstrates the value of our natural environment — not only our livelihoods, but our very survival,” Mr. Wheatley told the HOA on July 16. “Environmental
legislation — which would address the manner in which we balance the protection of the environment, conservation of our biodiversity; [which] would control pollution and hazardous substances; and [which] advances and promotes sustainable development which is in harmony with our environment — is long overdue.”

The Green Paper

Though the draft bill hasn’t been released yet, the Green Paper describes some of the provisions it will include. The document is available on government’s website, and the public is being encouraged to provide input.

“This paper describes the approach that government will pursue to conserve biodiversity, more effectively manage the natural assets, control pollution and the discharge of hazardous substances, and strengthen the compliance and penalty regimes to arrest environmental degradation,” Mr. Wheatley explained.

According to the Green Paper, plans in the works include
the territory’s commitment to regional collaboration and mentioned the recent visit of Diann Black-Llayne, an Antigua and Barbuda environmental officer who serves as one of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States’ negotiators to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.

“It is in the context of partnership and the sharing of experiences and approaches to adapt to the impacts of climate change at the regional and national levels that we have held a fruitful dialogue to identify areas of cooperation with the government of Antigua and Barbuda and other member states of the OECS,” Mr. Wheatley said.

He did not provide an update on the Cabinet’s April 24 decision to revoke the memberships of the Climate Change Trust Fund board, which was moved from his ministry to the Premier’s Office under the new government. No replacements have been announced for the board, and the body’s future is uncertain.

Mr. Wheatley also did not provide an update on the environmental and tourism levy, part of which is supposed to go to the Climate Change Trust Fund. Though the $10 tax on all non-cruise-ship tourists took effect in April 2017, no money has been provided to the trust fund.

Beach policy

In addition to the Green Paper, a 17-page draft Beach Use Policy has been released. The document outlines the definition of beaches, a table of government issued permits and plans, and regulations concerning commercial and non-commercial use of beaches.

It also announces the pro- posed creation of a Beach Management Commission “whose ultimate goal will be the overall management of all beaches in the territory.”

This commission would include the permanent secretary in the NRLI Ministry, the director of the BVI Tourist Board, the head of the ministry’s Environmental Unit, a representative of the Trade Division, and three private sector representatives se- lected by the minister.

Other proposed changes include a $50 fee for non-commercial activities such as bonfires or loud speakers, as well as fees for commercial events ranging from $75 to $500 per day depending
on the type of event.

Using beaches for commercial purposes could require a trade licence, a food handler’s certificate, a liquor licence, a noise certificate, and fire safety recommendations. Such licences would have to be obtained under various government agencies, but a “Beach Use Approval Letter” from the ministry would be required under any circumstance.

The public is invited to give feedback on the draft Beach Use Policy and to read the document on the government’s website. Also posted is a Beach Use Policy Survey that residents may complete.