It seems public pressure in the ongoing debate over George Town’s only remaining Ironwood forest is having some effect.
According to budget documents, $2 million earmarked to start building the extended Linford Pierson Highway through the centre of that forest to Walkers Road has been eliminated from this year’s spending plans.
And Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean said for the first time Friday that the government may not end up building the road at all.
‘We still haven’t decided, one; whether we’re going to go ahead with the extension or two; which direction the extension is going to take,’ Mr. McLean told the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee Friday.
Mr. McLean said the route, which would take the extension through the centre of the wooded land is still the government’s preferred route. However, he said the National Roads Authority intends to undertake a cost analysis of available alternatives.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts added last week that government wants to ascertain the environmental impacts of building the highway extension along its preferred route.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush pressed government to make a definitive statement that it would not build the Linford Pierson extension through the forest. He said the $2 million removed from the final two months of the current budget would be there again in the spending plan for the fiscal year, which begins 1 July.
‘Will the minister say if there (are) still plans to go that route?’ Mr. Bush asked.
Mr. McLean stressed a final decision had not been made and that residents needed to consider other factors that would be involved in changing the road’s design or simply choosing not to build it at all.
‘I am not prepared to take anybody’s land,’ he said. ‘If they choose to sell it, I don’t have a problem with that.’
The land owner whose property would be taken by the road through the Ironwood forest has previously told the Caymanian Compass that he would not oppose the government buying his land if the road were routed around the northern end of the forest.
Mr. McLean said any road traversing the northern end of the forest would still have to be built safely.
‘We are now looking at any alternate route around the northern boundary (of the forest),’ Mr. McLean said. ‘If we were to do it without taking out houses, it would mean sharp corners — like 70 degree corners. If you’re going to do it that way you’re going to have to take out at least four or five homes.’
Mr. McLean has also said that not building the extension of the Linford Pierson Highway through to Walkers Road could amount to even more traffic tie ups for drivers coming in from Grand Cayman’s eastern districts.