Residents cautiously back wall

The controversial Savannah Gully Wall seems destined to proceed, after a clear majority of residents at a public meeting Thursday gave their backing – if cautiously – to the proposal.

Savannah Wall

Orth-Rodgers and Associates Principal Steven Bolt outlines his company’s plans for preventing flooding in the Savannah Gully at a public meeting at Savannah Primary School Thursday night. Photo: James Dimond.

After debate on the pros and cons of other proposals, strenuous questioning of engineers and much grumbling, a show of hands requested by a resident revealed a large majority had decided to support the wall.

“There has been lots of talk about addressing this problem for years but nothing ever happened,” said a resident from Butterfly Circle to loud applause. “Now we have a government that wants to do something about it … Let us try the wall and let us see what will happen.”

Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean said he will take feedback from the meeting to Cabinet Tuesday. Tenders for the wall’s construction could be issued within weeks, he said.

However, plans to upgrade the wall to be able to prevent overtopping from a Category 3 hurricane have been abandoned, Mr. McLean later told the Caymanian Compass. It would require near tripling the wall’s length and making it significantly higher, at “astronomical expense”, he said.

Under the current plan, the wall will stretch almost 2,000 feet, at a height of between two to seven feet above ground. Engineers from US based engineering firm Orth-Rodgers and associates told the crowd the floodwall will prevent about 96 per cent to 99 per cent of the water from overtopping in a direct hit from a Category 2 hurricane. It will offer the same protection from a larger hurricane offshore that is the equivalent of a Category 2 event at the wall site.

The wall will be greater than 90 per cent effective for a Category 3 hurricane approaching Grand Cayman from the south, they engineers explained.

Earlier, a crowd of about 80 heard Mr. McLean take responsibility for much of the controversy that has surrounded the wall, saying his decision to detail plans for it in the Legislative Assembly in September was the greatest blunder of his six-year political career.

“This meeting should have happened first; that’s my fault. I should not have come out and made the statement about the wall because it conjured up so many uncertainties in people’s minds. That’s my fault.”

Mr. McLean said he had expected a larger crowd, given the importance of the meeting to Savannah residents and the controversy that has surrounded the proposed wall.

He began the event by emphasising the meeting was not intended to be confrontational. “You’re the boss. If you don’t want it (the wall) then we don’t have to do it,” he said.

Orth-Rodgers project manager Katherine Farrow said after considering a range of options to prevent flooding in the gully, including a number of proposals suggested by residents at previous meetings, Orth-Rodgers had found the wall to be the most viable immediate solution, but other mitigating solutions will also be required, she explained.

“It’s the one solution where we can prevent as much water from coming inland. The wall is our focus as the first step in this process.”

Alternatives examined by Orth-Rodgers included a series of culverts under Shamrock Road and Homestead Crescent; a large drainage channel or moat around the projected line of the wall; storing water in the gully and pumping it into North Sound; a conveyance system allowing flood waters to flow into the nearby Pedro Castle Quarry; raising the Shamrock Rd and Homestead Crescent intersection and installing a culvert under the road; coastal armoury in the form of off shore jacks that would break up waves; and transverse drainage sluices to allow the water to flow back to sea.

Principal Project Consultant Steven Bolt said one of the problems with building a moat was that it would actually increase wave run up.

In regards to storing water in the gully and pumping it out into North Sound, the gully would need to be excavated over 12,000 feet to contain some 1.6 billion gallons of water that is estimated to flood in during a Hurricane Wilma like events. A retaining wall would also need to be constructed around the gully, he said.

Addressing the idea of pumping water to Pedro Castle Quarry, Mr. Bolt said a pipe one mile long would have to be constructed to over 30 inches in diameter. The quarry would then require significant excavation to make it almost twice as large and 175 feet deep.

To effectively raise the Shamrock Road and Homestead Crescent intersection to avoid flooding, several culverts would be required to handle flooding and the road would need to be raised for about 3,000 feet, affecting some 40 properties, he said. This would increase flooding on the south side of Shamrock Rd, he added.

According to a Frequently Asked Questions sheet handed out at the meeting, transverse drainage sluices dug into the ironshore to allow the water to run back out to sea would exacerbate flooding by allowing water to run inland more quickly than present.

Mr. Bolt also dismissed concern that the wall will cause new flooding at the points where it ends. He said the wall ends at highpoints that have not historically experienced flooding.

After the meeting, Mr. McLean expressed hope residents had gained from having all the facts laid out on the table.

‘People that came tonight are more informed; they understand it better for having talked to the consultants. But if anyone has any questions, they should call us,’ he said.

Although no firm timetable has been established, he hopes the wall can be completed in time for next year’s hurricane season.

One resident unconvinced at the meeting’s conclusion was Sandra Coe. ‘There is no guarantee this is going to work. To me, it is going to make things worse,’ she said.

‘But the majority wants it, so all we can do now is hope and pray that if they do it, it doesn’t affect our property and those that built in the gully. I’ve already put them on notice that if my property gets affected, they will know about it.”

Bodden Town District MLA Anthony Eden said, having talked with the experts about the proposal, he thought it made sense.

‘Four to six million dollars (the project’s estimated cost); I think if you were to compare that to all the money that has been spent over the decades trying to fix people houses (from flooding in the gully) it’s a drop in the bucket.

‘It may not work. Nobody, after seeing Ivan, can prepare for a Category 5 hurricane. But what we are talking about is trying to mitigate what comes in there,’ he said.

‘It’s up to you, but one thing’s for sure; we just can’t leave it alone. We must try. If you don’t try something, you will never succeed.’

FYI

Anyone wanting to know more about the Savannah Wall project is encouraged to call the National Roads Authority’s Marion Pandohie on 946-7780.

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