The signing of an agreement between the Dart Group, the National Roads Authority and the Cayman Islands government will have an immediate impact on the economy, Premier McKeeva Bush said.
Speaking at the signing Thursday, 15 December, Mr. Bush said it was an important day for the Cayman Islands.
“This is a momentous day that has seen some tough negotiations and some challenging times for both sides – the Cabinet ministers and the Dart Group representatives – but today is a good day none-the-less,” he said.
The agreement is a component of the ForCayman Investment Alliance ‘mega deal’ announced in June between the government and the Dart Group, however it stands alone from the definitive main agreement relating to that deal. Mr. Bush said he anticipated the main agreement would be signed in about four months.
Key elements of the deal signed last week include:
- The Dart Group to fund the extension of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway from its current terminus at Raleigh Quay to Batabano Road in West Bay;
- The Dart Group to fund an extension of Reverend Blackman Drive, connecting Willie Farrington Drive with part of the new section of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway;
- The Dart Group to fund a new road to Barkers National Park.
- The eventual closure of about 2,500 feet of West Bay Road from Governors Way to Yacht Drive, with the road lands becoming part of the Dart Group’s adjacent properties;
- The Dart Group to create a bike/walking trail to give the public access to the coastal beach along the entire length of the 2,500 feet of road that will be closed;
- The Dart Group’s commitment to commence construction on the redevelopment of the former Courtyard Marriott Hotel within 12 months;
- The Dart Group’s immediate release of US$5 million out of US$20.5 million allocated as part of the main ForCayman Investment Alliance deal. Half of the released funds will be used for the Saving Homes Residential Mortgage Arrears Programme and the other half for education projects;
- The Dart Group to get development concessions to a maximum net present value of US$24 million providing it continues to invest and develop in the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Bush said there were many benefits of the agreement for the Cayman Islands.
“Signing this agreement will immediately impact the economy,” he said. “It will create jobs; put people to work; give local businesses project contracts; and enable Caymanians, who have been unemployed and are experiencing real financial strain, to actively work to save their homes and feed their families.”
Dart Realty Chief Operating Officer Jackie Doak confirmed construction on the road works would start within 30 days.
“In fact, even before the [National Roads Authority] agreement was signed, in the true spirit and intent of the alliance, 30 Caymanians are already at work performing preclearance work on our lands for the extension of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway.”
Traffic Impact Assessment
National Roads Authority Deputy Chairman Troy Whittaker said the road now called the Esterley Tibbetts Highway was approved back in the late 1960s as part of the Governor’s Harbour Development and was then called Peninsula Avenue. He said it was also considered part of the 1988 Master Ground Transportation Study.
“[I]n the 23 years since then, neither the Roads section of the Public Works Department nor the subsequently created National Roads Authority has seen the need to spend government’s money on a traffic impact assessment for a road which it already agreed was needed,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mr. Whittaker said the Dart Group advised the roads authority it had commissioned a traffic impact assessment relating to the elements of its agreement with the government.
That study was undertaken by Orth-Rodgers & Associates, Inc, a US-based company of transportation engineers and planners. The 27-page study, which can be accessed in full at the ForCayman Investment Alliance website, looks at the impacts from extending the Esterley Tibbetts Highway to West Bay, from the closure of the section of West Bay Road, and from the development of the Dart-owned lands along the Seven Mile Beach corridor north of Governors Way.
The study concludes that the proposed modifications of the roadway system were “acceptable measures taken in providing adequate roadway capacity in a full build-out condition”.
“The results of the study indicated what we have known all along,” Mr. Whittaker said. “That the extension of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway to Batabano Road will improve traffic flow to and from West Bay.
“Additionally, it showed that the proposed decommissioning of the small section of West Bay Road will help with the flooding that is experienced during severe weather conditions.”
Mr. Whittaker said the NRA board was happy to sign the agreement.
“The NRA Board endorses the proposed closure of a small section of West Bay Road and from a traffic management and public safety point of view, we look forward to working with Dart Realty on the planned road improvements.”
The deal reached last Thursday requires an independent review by 16 March, 2012, to ensure that by signing the agreement, the government is compliant with its Framework for Fiscal Responsibility and to provide government with adequate information to assess the value of the agreement to the Cayman Islands.
The review will be conducted by a qualified entity appointed by the government.
Mrs. Doak said the Dart Group embraced the independent review and compliance with all Cayman Islands laws, legal requirements and procedures.
“While conducted after the execution of this agreement, the independent review allows government to consider the results, suggest amendments or, in extreme circumstances, terminate the agreement.”
Mrs. Doak said there had already been a study conducted by Deloitte on the economic impact of the projects involved.
“The findings confirm that not only will there be a significant positive economic impact in the short term, but also for years to come,” she said. “We anticipate that the independent review will validate the Deloitte assessment and also confirm that the [National Roads Authority] agreement represents value to the Cayman Islands.”
Mr. Bush said he was aware of a petition signed by several thousand people against the realignment of West Bay Road and delivered to Governor Duncan Taylor last week.
He said Mr. Taylor forwarded him the petition along with a letter. In that letter to Mr. Bush, Mr. Taylor stated he had explained to the petition’s organisers that “policy on business development is a matter which is devolved to the local government.”
“You have the lead responsibility,” Mr. Taylor wrote.
Mr. Bush said he was personally reviewing the petition.
“From my preliminary review, I can see that many residents and many visitors, including cruise ship passengers, have signed the petition,” he said, noting that some of his supporters also signed it.
“But I know that many of the people who signed were given wrong information and misled into believing that we were closing all of West Bay Road and giving away all of public beach,” he said. “That is simply not true.”
Mr. Bush said he could not agree with the framers of the petition.
“What we are doing is good for West Bay and all the people of the Cayman Islands,” he said. “We, the Cabinet, have a responsibility to help turn around this economy and get people back to work … We don’t have the luxury of waiting years to help people.”
Mortgage arrears programme
After the signing, Mrs. Doak presented Sonia McLaughlin with a cheque for the Saving Homes Residential Mortgage Arrears Programme. Mrs. McLaughlin, who is the chief officer with responsibility for public finance in the Ministry of Finance, Tourism and Development, will chair the committee established to oversee the programme. Other members of that committee include Cora Grant-James and Carlon Powery, Mr. Bush said.
“The committee, with assistance from the bank, which holds the specific mortgage, will assess the needs of applicants and will, for those who are successful, award approximately a $12,000 allowance with subsequent assistance provided for up to three mortgage payments, with the total of the funds awarded not to exceed $20,000 in total.” Mr. Bush said the money paid out from the programme would go directly to the banks.“The purpose of this programme is to assist those who are facing the loss of their homes,” he said.
“The government’s goal is to give those successful applicants 30 to 50 years to repay the funds, without interest. Of course, they can pay it off earlier if their situation improves.”