Mastic, Salina at risk from road

A proposed extension of Grand Cayman’s East-West Arterial Highway will pass through the Salina Reserve and the Mastic Trail, according to a map drawn in accordance to the Development Plan.

mastic trail

Former National Trust officer Paul Watler on the Mastic Trail in 2007. In a move sure to draw the ire of conservationists, a proposed extension to the East-West Arterial highway plans to pass through the environmentally and historically significant Mastic Trail and Salina Reserve. Photo: James Dimond

Both areas are of considerable local significance: While the Mastic Trail is a historic footpath, the Salina Reserve is home to iguanas released by the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme.

According to Brian Tomlinson, managing director of the National Roads Authority, the road became part of the Development Plan on 3 May, 2005, under then Section 25 (4) (a) of the Roads Law, which has since been changed to Section 26 of that law.

Denis Thibeault, assistant director of the Transportation & Planning Unit, explained that the road corridor has been reserved under the Development Plan.

‘What that essentially means is that the map is like a development plan specific to the long term preservation of the Grand Cayman road network,’ Mr. Thibeault said, adding that the extension was based on the projected infrastructure needs of the eastern districts.

‘In February 2005, under instructions from the previous Minister of Works, the [Transportation and Planning Unit] was asked to prepare a road corridor for a 20-25 years horizon which anticipated long-term planning needs for the eastern districts of Grand Cayman,’ he said.

Mr. Thibeault also said that the local significance of the Mastic Trail and the Salina Reserve had partially factored into the planning process.

‘However, environmental concerns must also be weighted with other concerns such as long-term planning & development needs and the preservation of future road corridors…’ he said.

‘A happy medium can be reached when it comes to sensitive areas like the Mastic Trail and Salinas as well as the water lens. It’s not an all or nothing situation as some environmentalists like to believe.’

Tangible plans for such compromises, however, have not yet been made.

‘Mitigation measures to minimize impacts on these environmental features have not specifically been assessed at this point,’ Mr. Thibeault said, indicating that these issues would be addressed when and if a Road Gazette for the extension is prepared under Section 3 of the Roads Law.

Environmental assessments of roads are not currently required in the Cayman Islands, said Mr. Tomlinson: ‘We don’t have any legislation in the Cayman Islands that requires environmental assessments of roads. The legislation doesn’t exist here.’

Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said this could change if the National Conservation Bill is passed.

‘If the National Conservation Law was in place, there would have had to have been an assessment of the potential impact of the road prior to it being gazetted so we would not be in a position to fight with an already gazetted road,’ she said.

‘In many countries in the world, environmental assessments are also conducted on plans… so you do them prior to passing the plans.’

Gilbert McLean, the former Minister of Works, said that the road was not initially planned to intersect with the Mastic Trail or the Salina Reserve.

‘It came near to some of the reserve land, the Mastic being one of them and the Salina being another,” he said, ‘it came near them but it did not actually intersect them that I can recall.

Mr. Thibeault disagreed.

‘There is no discrepancy between what was submitted to the Ministry and what Cabinet in Council approved for the East-West Arterial Corridor,’ he said.

When the current Minister for Works and Infrastructure, Arden McLean, was initially contacted for comment, he said was unaware that the road intersected with the Mastic Trail. Mr. McLean could not be reached for further comment by press time.