September 16, 2021

Cayman’s National Trust seeking government to realign arterial road

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EW Arterial Trust properties map with markers_Page_1The Cayman Islands National Trust is seeking the government to realign the East-West arterial road south in order not to encroach on the five acres plus of owned and protected land by the Trust.

The following is the National Trust’s recommendations and briefing in full with attached map with markers for clarification.

NATIONAL TRUST FOR THE CAYMAN ISLANDS POSITION ON EAST-WEST ARTERIAL ROAD

The National Trust for the Cayman Islands is a not-for-profit NGO created to preserve the history and biodiversity of the Cayman Islands.  Through education and conservation we work to protect environmentally sensitive and historically significant sites across all three Cayman Islands.

The National Trust’s Environmental Programmes are founded on the concept that protection of native plants and animals is best achieved by preserving the natural areas upon which they depend.  Similarly, safeguarding natural processes and maintaining ecosystem services requires the preservation of these natural areas.  To that end, the Trust has spent the last 27 years initiating a system of protected areas across all three islands. This has often entailed raising the funding necessary to outright purchase properties featuring environmentally sensitive habitat, with some acquisitions resulting from donations.

EW Arterial Trust properties map with markers_Page_2When human activities have the potential to result in adverse impacts to Cayman’s natural heritage, the Trust is compelled to inform the Caymanian people, for whom the land is being preserved, in order to ensure we are made completely aware of the full ramifications.  This is especially true in cases where the Trust’s protected areas will be impacted, as the interests of our membership regarding the preservation of Cayman’s environment for future generations must be represented.

The Trust has already expressed concern about plans for the East-West Arterial Corridor since its gazetted approval under Section 25 (4)(a) of the Roads Law in 2005.  The planned road, as indicated by the National Roads Authority, will traverse five protected areas under Trust ownership.  Despite expressing these concerns, no amendments to the plan have been forthcoming.  The Trust is therefore concerned about the offer by a local developer to finance the extension from Hirst Road to Frank Sound Road.  After due consideration, the Trust has established a position.

A further concern of the Trust is the amount of fill that will be required to fill the road From Hirst Road to Frank Sound Road and as well we are concerned that roads act as vectors for invasive alien species to colonize natural areas.  In all likelihood the planned road will encourage the eastward movement of the Common Iguana (Iguana iguana), which is viewed as a pest in the western districts.

These roads will have an immense and as yet not understood impact on all aspects of life in central and eastern Grand Cayman. For this reason the National Trust urges the CIG to carry out the following

Recommendations:

A.  A Road Traffic Impact Assessment to determine the feasibility of two roads in the

eastern districts and to priorize one.

B.                     A Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment must absolutely be regarded as a priority for this project to move forward.

Environmental Impacts Within Trust Protected Areas Due to the Construction of the

East-West Arterial Corridor

1.   The road, as planned, will stretch approximately nine miles from Hirst Road to Frank Sound Road.  This portion of the road will traverse the area known as the Central Mangrove Wetlands, commonly described as the ecological heart of Grand Cayman.  Construction of a 125 foot wide road, as called for in the plan, will irrevocably destroy more than 100 acres of pristine mangrove habitat.

MAP See Point A. The planned road will destroy 8.6 acres in the Trust-owned portion of the Central Mangrove Wetlands.

This portion of the planned road will be constructed through a wetland- very low lying and prone to flooding in the rainy season – consequently it will require large amounts of fill.  As this fill will be sourced from a natural area, the total cost of the project in terms of the destruction of habitat will be difficult to gauge; however, it must be understood that natural areas quite apart from the footprint of the road will be negatively impacted.

Recommendation:

The road should be moved south in order to ensure it does not traverse Trust-owned properties (at A) in the Central Mangrove Wetlands.  (Alternatively, if this is not possible, mitigation should be paid to the Trust on an acre-for-acre basis.) Construction must take into account drainage of the Central Mangrove Basin.

2.   The planned road will also cross the Mastic Trail, severing it from the southern trailhead on land purchased by the National Trust with assistance from the Department of Tourism (B on Map).  This valuable tourism asset will be altered, losing not only the trailhead with car park and interpretive signage, but also approximately 1600 feet of the Mastic Trail.  The continuous noise of traffic will impinge on the sense of solitude sought by naturalists in protected areas, and this historic, public right of way will be permanently and drastically altered.

3.   The planned road will destroy 14.3 acres of the Mastic Reserve (C on map).  This will include properties comprising a wetland in the eastern reaches of the Reserve, the destruction of which will negatively impact the ecosystem as a whole by decreasing the moisture available for epiphytic plants located downwind in the dry forest habitat.

Recommendation:

This northern portion of the planned road impacting these two sites B and C should realigned and moved south from RP1 to  Frank Sound Road.

4.   The northern planned road will destroy 20.1 acres of the Salina Reserve (D on Map).  This protected area is used by the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme to release captive bred Blue Iguanas, and as such, it is reasonable to expect that these endangered creatures will be exposed to the additional threat of vehicular death if a highway traverses their sanctuary.

5.   The planned road will destroy 2.4 acres of the Colliers Wilderness Reserve (E on map).  This protected area is used by the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme to release captive bred Blue Iguanas, and as such, it is reasonable to expect that these endangered creatures will be exposed to the additional threat of vehicular death if a highway traverses their sanctuary.  Additionally, this Reserve has benefitted from European Union grant funding which is being leveraged for ecotourism. Fragmenting this protected area via road construction will negatively impact its tourism capabilities.

Recommendation:

It should be determined from the Roads traffic study if the northeastern extent of the planned road, from the western end of the Salina to the Queen’s Highway, is required. If so, it should be realigned to protect Cayman’s endangered endemic species, the Blue Iguana.

The Trust recognizes the proposed East-West Arterial Corridor will have national impacts, not only environmentally, but socially and economically as well.  If this project moves forward in its current form, the serious implications for Cayman’s future generations will include habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and habitat change – directly, in the immediate vicinity of the road, and indirectly, in areas linked to the habitats being modified.

The seriousness of these issues requires a national transportation study, and an environmental impact assessment to determine future planning requirements the eastern districts.

The National Trust for the Cayman Islands wishes to discuss the proposed East-West Arterial Corridor with the National Roads Authority in order to address and resolve the impacts to its property (held on behalf of the people of the Cayman Islands).

END

PROPOSED EAST-WEST ARTERIAL ROAD [Briefing]

Summary of Facts

The National Trust owns two protected areas along the first stage of the proposed East- West Arterial Corridor – the Mastic Reserve and a portion of the Central Mangrove Wetland. The entire length of the road will impact five National Trust properties, including protected areas where endangered Blue Iguanas have been released.  The Trust is not opposed to the new road per se, but is concerned about the current route and suggests that sections of the road be rerouted to avoid environmentally sensitive areas.

The Trust has worked tirelessly over the past two decades to expand the Mastic Reserve which, in addition to being important habitat, is now one of the leading land-based tourist attractions on Grand Cayman.  We are disturbed at the possibility that years of acquiring land and millions of dollars raised for these purchases could be compromised for road access when the road plans could easily be modified.

The National Trust is a private landowner who will lose land under the proposed plan, but unlike the typical landowner, may not be able to be compensated for land seized by the government.  Under the National Trust Law, the Trust has the power to declare its properties inalienable and once declared inalienable, these properties cannot be sold or purchased.  The Trust-owned parcels of land comprising the Mastic Reserve have been declared inalienable. How the Government intends to deal with this legal impasse remains to be seen. We again suggest, that rather than having two laws in conflict, that a more holistic solution would be to simply reroute the road around the areas preserved in perpetuity for the people of the Cayman Islands under the National Trust Law.

The National Trust’s properties are protected because they are important habitats for the ecological health of Grand Cayman but also, in the case of the Mastic Trail, as a piece of our shared national history.  To build a road through these areas will fragment and impair the important environmental functions they provide.  To drive a road through the Mastic trail is a fragmentation of our history. If this project moves forward in its current form,

the serious implications for Cayman’s future generations will include habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and habitat change – directly, in the immediate vicinity of the road, and indirectly, in areas linked to the habitats being modified.

Summary of Key Asks

The National Trust understands the value this road will bring to the country but the damage which will result from the current route is unnecessary and unacceptable.  The Trust therefore urges the Government to ensure that:

1.   Transportation Study and Strategic Environmental Assessment: A national transportation study is performed to determine if two new roads to the eastern end of Grand Cayman are in fact necessary.  It is suspected that the planned new road to the Shetty hospital will be more than adequate to provide an alternative road east.  The traffic study should be followed by Strategic Environmental Assessments so that the two routes can be compared in this context as well.

2.   Re-alignment of Northern Road: If the northern road is determined to be necessary, the proposed route should be moved south, along its entire length, in order to ensure it does not hit any of the five National Trust Law protected properties.

3.   Mitigation: The planning of any road development should include mitigation measures to compensate for lost natural areas.

The seriousness of these issues demands that thorough studies be performed to ensure that we do not proceed down a path that is detrimental to the environmental health of Grand Cayman. These studies and the re-alignment of the road must be carried out before the proposed route of the road proceeds to the second and final stage of gazette.

The Trust is confident that it can work with the developer to ensure that the section of the road currently under discussion is built in the most environmentally sensitive manner possible.  But where the road is to be built, the full extent and best route of the East-West arterial(s), is a question for the Government, the National Roads Authority and the people of the Cayman Islands.

By simply making minor readjustments to the road’s position, the critical habitats which provide the Cayman Islands with a major tourism product, one of our few land based natural attractions, and allow them to rate as one of the most beautiful island destinations in the world, will be maintained.

 

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