Opponents of the proposed closure of a portion of West Bay Road to make way for a new Dart hotel plan to hold a rally outside the Legislative Assembly building in George Town.
The protesters hope the rally, for which no date has yet been set, will garner a better response from government than a more than 4,000-signature petition they organised last year to object to the proposed closure of the road.
At a meeting at John A. Cumber School Primary School hall last week, attended by more than 100 people, organisers took signatures and urged them each to bring 10 people to a four-hour rally in George Town.
Dr. Edward Caudeiron said it was “brazen” of developer Kenneth Dart to ask government to hand over a section of more than 2,500 feet of road so that he could have beach front for his property.
“Equally outrageous and scandalous is you have a government desperately seeking to have a project to go into the next election, remembering the failed dredging of the North Sound and mega quarry,” he said. “It is right to oppose this closure of the West Bay Road … Join us in demonstrating. We plan to demonstrate in front of the LA building … when they are in session to let the government know we will not back down. We want the government to know that it is a shame, it is a disgrace what is happening here in Cayman.”
Speakers also lashed out at a report in the Caymanian Compass published 23 December, 2011, which quoted Premier McKeeva Bush as saying some people who signed the petition against the road closure had been “misled” into believing that Public Beach on Seven Mile Beach would be closed as part of the deal. That article pointed out anomalies among the signatures, including that some contained just first names, some were signed on behalf of others, some were illegible, some were duplicated, others were printed and not signed and some were by children.
Alice Mae Coe of the Concerned Citizens Group criticised Governor Duncan Taylor, to whom the petition was initially presented, for not dealing with the petition and instead passing it along to Mr. Bush, who went gave the Compass access. Ms Coe said since the land under consideration is Crown land, it should have been an issue for the governor.
Betty Ebanks presented a report on the process used to verify the names of those who signed the petition. She said the process of verifying 4,185 signatures in the 372-page petition began on 5 December and had not been completed by the time the petition was handed to the governor on 12 December.
Ms Ebanks said the petition had never been intended to only collect signatures from registered voters or to press for a referendum. Under the 2009 Constitution, a petition signed by 25 per cent of the electorate can trigger a referendum. That currently equates to 3,794 voters.
An analysis of the petition presented at the meeting showed that 2,363 registered voters signed the petition, along with 1,377 residents, 368 visitors and eight children aged 11 to 15 – a total of 4,116 verified signatures. The 69 duplicated entries in the petition were not counted.
Ms Ebanks said everyone who signed the petition was invited to read a preamble that explained exactly what it was about. “No one was misled into thinking that the agreement signed by Dart and the government involved the sale of Seven Mile Beach,” she said.
She told the packed audience that the names of those who indicated on the petition that they were registered voters were crosschecked against the electoral register. Of those, 354 could not be verified as voters, she said.
Duplicate entries were marked as such and not counted, those who signed on behalf of others were identified, 95 signatures were found to be illegible, and others that appeared as printed letters rather than signatures were counted.
Of the 3,748 residents, voters and children who signed the petition, 44 per cent of those came from West Bay, 33 per cent from George Town, and 13.4 per cent from Bodden Town. There were also 208 signatures from North Side, 133 from East End and 27 from the Sister Islands. A further 24 people did not indicate in which district they lived.
Ms Coe said: “We have never at any time been dishonest, untruthful or tried to mislead anybody. Far from it – we have been trying to shed light on this subject, whereas others prefer darkness.”
In his address to the crowd, Henry Ormon Morgan said the plan to close the section of West Bay Road that runs alongside Public Beach represented “outright segregation and discrimination” and would make it difficult for local people to access that area of Seven Mile Beach because they could no longer park nearby, unlike the hotel guests who would have easy access.
He said Cayman was not big enough for Caymanians and Mr. Dart.
“Somebody has to leave and it certainly is not going to be us,” he said. “You don’t let any bully, local or foreign, come into your island and tell you what’s going to happen or what they’re going to do.”
He said Mr. Dart needed to reconsider closing that length of West Bay Road because “the resentment that will be in this island will never be at peace again”.
He said the deal, which includes swapping land in Barkers for the West Bay Road site where the now-closed Marriott Courtyard Hotel is located, meant swapping swamp land for expensive beach-front land.
Captain Bryan Ebanks said Caymanians did not have to wait four years from an election to make their views known to government and to effect change. Citing protests in the United States and worldwide over the past year, he said: “Look at what people do when they have become disgusted with the system. They get up and let their voices be heard. They don’t wait until every four years.”