Savannah seawall on hold

The Cayman Islands government will delay the construction of a seawall in Savannah until at least next year.

The Legislative Assembly’s finance committee on Friday removed $3.5 million earmarked for the wall’s construction from the current budget. That money has not been replaced in the fiscal year which begins on 1 July.

Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean said he was not certain what would eventually happen with the seawall project, which was being designed to protect residents who live around the Savannah Gully from flooding in the event of a hurricane or tropical storm.

‘We now have objections to the building of that wall, so there’s no reason to keep that money in there at this stage,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘There are processes that government has to follow also, which is through the planning process.’

According to Mr. McLean, one Savannah resident has filed an objection to the seawall’s construction, which now must be heard by the Central Planning Authority. Those objections are scheduled to be read in mid-June.

The minister said money for the seawall’s construction was not placed in next year’s budget because, if that had been done, it would appear that the ministry was attempting to pre-empt the planning board’s decision.

The nature of the project made it risky to build during hurricane season, Mr. McLean said, so work on it likely couldn’t get started until December or January.

‘If we would’ve got this started around January (2008), we would’ve been fairly much through by June or July,’ he said. ‘I really want to get this done, not only to save the destruction of properties. It not only affects those land owners. Everybody is involved in the increased cost. This is in the national interest.’

Mr. McLean added that he had urged the objector to drop the case, but said government was unable to ignore the planning process.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said the money should still have been included in next year’s budget, and if it was not needed at that time it could be removed again.

‘If you don’t need it, you don’t use it. But you plan for it,’ Mr. Bush said.

He also intimated that the money taken away from the seawall’s construction in this year’s budget was simply being diverted to other projects.

Minister McLean denied that.

‘The money is certainly not being used by me, or being transferred to something else,’ he said.

Plans for the Savannah seawall initially drew intense criticism from residents when they were first announced last year. However, Mr. McLean said a series of public meetings had seemed to quell most of the fears about the project blocking people’s view of the ocean or actually trapping flood water behind it during a storm.

The project was first estimated to cost anywhere between $4 and $6 million.