The first phase of an ambitious multimillion-dollar plan for a marina in Cayman Brac has been submitted to Cabinet for approval.
The Alexander Hotel wants to excavate part of a saltwater pond and cut a channel through the reef, across a lagoon and an existing road to allow boats to access the marina.
The hotel management hopes the project can attract visiting yachts to the Brac and provide an economic boost, as well as create the first “safe harbor” on the island. Timothy Dilbert, who runs the hotel, said the marina could create employment as well as spin-off benefits for local tourism businesses.
The approval process for the development could be one of the first tests of the new National Conservation Law, assuming the law is enacted and the new council established in time to deal with it.
The plan requires 200 feet of reef, inside a marine park, to be cut away and the seabed dredged to create a 12-foot-deep channel extending 800 feet from the inland pond to the reef line.
The pond, which was declassified as an animal sanctuary by legislators in 2012, has potential environmental value as the habitat of West Indian whistling ducks.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said she was not certain whether the project would be dealt with by the National Conservation Council, which government aims to establish in the new year, or through the existing process of voluntary consultation with the DoE.
Either way, the department is concerned that dredging part of the pond could cause sedimentation on the south shore reef. The department is also worried about the impact of cutting away part of the reef.
“I think if the aim is to create a safe harbor in Cayman Brac, there are better places to do it,” said Ms Ebanks-Petrie.
Architect Burns Connolly, who is bringing the application on behalf of the hotel, said the new law has the potential to impact the plan because it mandates that decision makers consider environmental concerns.
But he said amendments to the legislation, approved last Friday, had crucially left the ultimate authority with Cabinet, which has a remit to balance environmental concerns against economic and community benefit.
The coastal works application filed with Cabinet this week is for the marine side of the development only. It seeks permission to create the 100-foot-wide channel, with a rock buffer on one side, that will ultimately lead to the marina.
A second application for planning permission to excavate part of the pond and re-route the road around the new marina will have to be filed with the Development Control Board for the Sister Islands. Mr. Connolly said the marina would also help deal with the unpleasant smell emanating from the pond – the reason cited by lawmakers as the rationale for removing the animal sanctuary designation from the pond last year.
Mr. Dilbert said the project was not likely to be a money maker for the hotel, but he said it could provide an economic stimulus to the island by attracting visiting yachtsmen, both from Grand Cayman and further afield.
“This project will provide Cayman Brac with a sheltered facility able to accommodate the travel needs of domestic and international yachts, which at the moment, Cayman Brac is unable to do,” he said.
“Directly, there will be no money made for us, Indirectly, a project like this will not only benefit The Alexander Hotel, but will also benefit car rentals, dive operators, taxis, vacation rentals, all other hotels in Cayman Brac, supermarkets and marine services as well as introduce new ongoing employment.”
He said the project has the support of the vast majority of residents on the island and insisted the hotel intends to “do right” by the environment.
“This project is intended for the betterment and welfare of the people of Cayman Brac and the island’s economy and not intended for personal profit,” he added.