Premier McKeeva Bush said many of those who signed a petition against the closure of a 2,500-foot section of West Bay Road were misled into thinking that Public Beach would also be closed to the public as a result.
An agreement to close the section of West Bay Road between Governors Way and Yacht Drive and then reroute traffic through an extended Esterley Tibbetts Highway was signed last week by the National Roads Authority, the Cayman Islands Government and the Dart Group
That agreement is still subject to the results of an independent review before it becomes final.
The Concerns Citizens Group in conjunction with the Save Cayman Group and the West Bay Action Committee circulated a petition that respectively petitioned and demanded the governor to “preserve the existing West Bay Road in its entirety in perpetuity as public vehicular roadway for the people of the Cayman Islands”.
After it was presented to the Governor’s Office on 12 December, Governor Duncan Taylor sent the petition to Mr. Bush last week, stating that “policy on business development is a matter which is devolved to the local government” and therefore the premier had responsibility.
The Caymanian Compass asked to see the petition and was given access to it. The petition contained 372 pages in two binders and approximately 4,000 entries, of which a little more than 2,300 indicated they were registered voters. Others signing the petition included Caymanian non-voters; expatriates on work permits or with permanent residence; stay-over visitors including condominium owners who were off island; cruise ship visitors; and children, at least some of whom indicated their age was a young as 11.
Those signing the petition were only asked for their printed name; their signature; their district of residence; if they were a registered voter; whether they were a resident; or whether they were a visitor.
An accurate analysis of the petition proved impossible because of the following anomalies:
There were many duplicate entries
Some people signed on behalf of their whole family
Some people signed on behalf of others not in their family
Some entries only had first names
Some entries only had a first initial and a last name
Some entries were illegible
Some entries were printed names with no signature
In addition, there appeared to be a number of fictitious names or cases where one person signed a whole page of names. Since neither telephone numbers nor addresses were obtained when the petitions were signed, it would be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to verify if a person named in the petition actually signed it or if they even really exist.
The number of those who said they were voters was also impossible to verify because the petitioners indicated they were voters in different ways; most put a check mark or the word ‘yes’ but others put an ‘x’ to indicated they were voters. Yet others put an ‘x’ in the box to indicate they weren’t voters. In addition, many people who indicated they were voters were not listed on the Official Register of Electors on the Cayman Islands Election Office website.
Doing what’s right
Regardless of the anomalies, Premier Bush said the names of a “lot of good people”, some of whom he said were his supporters, were on petition.
“But I can’t agree with the petitioners,” he said, noting that while some might have signed the petition for sentimental or other reasons, he felt others were misled into thinking the road realignment deal in some way involved the Dart Group getting ownership of the Public Beach.
He said the people organising the petition had tried to block his government from doing things before.
“These are the same people who have opposed me most of my political life,” he said. “This is the same group that went to great lengths to stop me from getting the [Boggy Sand Road] seawall built. But I think everyone saw the value of that wall after Hurricane Ivan.”
Mr. Bush said the extension of what is now called the Esterley Tibbetts Highway all the way to West Bay dated back to the 1960s.
“But governments never had the money to do it,” he said, adding that his government was no different in not being able to afford it.
“The only way we’re going to get this is to do an agreement with Dart,” he said. “There is tremendous value in what we’re getting, but to get it, we have to give up something.”
The deal will also stimulate Cayman’s economy and create jobs, he said.
“We’re doing what’s right,” Mr. Bush said. “This will enhance our quality of life.”
Mr. Bush said he was aware that some people who signed the petition were misled into thinking the agreement with the Dart Group involved the sale of the Public Beach on Seven Mile Beach.
“This has nothing to do with selling the beach,” he said. “People will still have access to an enhanced Public Beach, one that is four times larger and with amenities [the government] would never be able to put there for our people.”
Mr. Bush said the Dart Group was going to create a pedestrian/bike trail through the whole length of where the road will be closed to give people safe access to the beach.
The contention that some people thought the road closure involved Public Beach was borne out through several examples:
One woman who signed the petition wrote “The Seven Mile Public Beach must remain public for all people until the end of time!” under her name on the petition:
One man who signed the petition wrote “The Public Beach must remain in public” after his name on the petition.
One person contacted who signed the petition said she was stopped while she was in her car and asked to sign a petition to keep the Public Beach for the people.
Mr. Bush said the tactics used by the petitioners showed “the depths they would go to mislead the people”.
“The big problem in this country is people saying misleading things and telling all kinds of misinformation,” he said. He took particular offence to the petitioners having children sign.
“To mislead children is doing a complete wrong to this country and to our prosperity because they are not telling the truth. They’re saying we’re selling away the beach.”
The Concerned Citizens Group’s Alice Mae Coe, who was the first signature on the first page of the petition, said that there was no intentional attempt to mislead anyone.
“Clear instructions were given to the people who presented the petitions,” she said, adding that the petition only spoke about the closure of a portion of West Bay Road and not the sale or transfer of Public Beach. “At no time was anyone instructed from our side to say it’s the Public Beach that you’re going to lose.”
With regard to people thinking the petition had something to do with Public Beach, she said that some people refer to West Bay Road as West Bay Beach Road and she suggested that was why they might have thought the petition involved Public Beach.
Ms Coe did not deny that cruise ship passengers had been among those signing the petition. Although it is difficult to determine for certain, analysis of the petition indicates that somewhere between 100 and 200 cruise ship passengers signed. Ms Coe explained that those signatures came from cruise ship passengers who were taking taxis or buses to get to boats excursions and were made aware that the one respite to all the condominiums and hotels that were blocking the view of the ocean on their way up West Bay Road – the view in front of Public Beach – would be taken away if the road were moved.
“They were asked ‘would you be interested in helping us protect the view by keeping the road where it is’ and they said, ‘of course we will’,” Ms Coe said, adding that since tourists were an important part of Cayman’s economy, their views were also important. “Who are we to discount our visitors?”
Concerning the children who signed, Ms Coe said the petition was not circulated in schools, but that children were sometimes with their parents when they were asked to sign and that sometimes the children wanted to sign, too. She said that the organisers would have preferred if everyone who signed was at least 18, but if children signed they were asked to put down their age so they could be identified later.
Ms Coe said the plan was to do an analysis of the petition before it was handed to the governor, but they ran out of time before it could be completed. However, she said that they had begun the process of eliminating duplicate signers and identifying voters, something that is evidenced in the petition from the scratched out names marked “duplicate”.
Ms Coe confirmed that the organisers had started the process of confirming a person’s voting status by comparing their names to the official register of electors, but they had not completed that task.
Despite some of the anomalies with the petition, Ms Coe thought the results were still valid.
“As a representation of the people’s feelings, I think it’s quite clear,” she said.
Because she was one of the organisers of the petition, Ms Coe – who has run for political office before – said she expected Premier Bush would accuse her of “being political”.
“What I’m doing now is not because I’m preparing for 2013,” she said, adding, however, that if people her and urged her to run for election, she might consider it.
“But that’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because I love this country.”
Time will tell
Premier Bush said that when the Esterley Tibbetts Highway extension, the enhanced Public Beach, the pedestrian/bike trails and the additional public beach are all completed, people will like what they see.
“I think people are going to recognise… that this was the right thing to do and they were misled by the petitioners,” he said. “Some people aren’t going to agree now and if people want to disagree, that’s their choice. But I think in the end they will see that this was the best thing to do.”