Marina project at Salt Water Pond pushed by opposition
Cayman’s premier and opposition leader this week pushed separate agendas for the development and economic diversification of Cayman Brac amid fears that the local population would eventually just drift away following a prolonged economic downturn.
“[Cayman Brac] is dying on its feet,” Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Wednesday during a Legislative Assembly debate in the Brac’s Aston Rutty Centre. “The last time I came here … you can tell where the economic downturn has occurred.”
“It is painfully obvious that Cayman Brac is at a crossroads,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said. “Population figures are dwindling, businesses are struggling. Most of the students have little, if any, prospects of getting work on Cayman Brac, so there is a constant brain drain [as they move away].”
East End MLA Arden McLean summed up legislators’ concerns Wednesday evening: “This place is going to be for the newly-wed or the nearly dead [referring to retirees].”
Seeking to bolster the islands’ tourism offerings requires something of a balancing act, Mr. Bush said. The Brac falls somewhere between the more modern beachfront resorts of Grand Cayman and the quaint, quiet charm of Little Cayman. It needs jobs for local residents, but it also wants to retain its small town feel, he said.
Mr. McLaughlin said Cabinet has given its approval “in principle” to two major projects: the development of a marina next to the Alexander Hotel in the Brac’s Salt Water Pond and the opening of a new airline ticketing center to eventually allow for direct flights from Miami to Cayman Brac.
Other employment projects government had approved include the creation of six more jobs in the Cayman Brac Fire Service, and the addition of a patrol boat to local police operations, the premier said. He said the government is also working on sports tourism and making Cayman Brac a more attractive destination for weddings and family tourism.
Mr. Bush sought to direct government’s immediate attention to the redevelopment of the Salt Water Pond, moving a motion to create a Cayman Brac environmental oversight committee to oversee the project, removing direct control from officials on Grand Cayman and seeking to move the marina project forward within eight weeks’ time.
Environment Minister Wayne Panton said government would agree to the motion, with the caveat that an environmental review of the dredging project would be completed prior to its construction.
Mr. Bush said he had heard such statements before and hoped government wasn’t simply stalling to please “environmentalists on Grand Cayman.”
“Four years [after it was first proposed], we are discussing the approval process for this project while the people of Cayman Brac are growing in despair,” Mr. Bush said. “We cannot save a dozen birds and let people here on Cayman Brac suffer.”
Mr. Panton said concerns remain about whether a channel could be placed in the pond area safely and what steps could be taken to mitigate damage from flooding. “We need to have some objective analysis of this,” he said.
Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell also rejected views that the current Progressives-led government is opposed to the marina project.
“There is no member in this honorable House that has spent more time with the developers of the Alexander Hotel and the developers of the proposed marina than I have,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “But my legacy will not be that the west end of Cayman Brac is ruined by a marina.
“[Marina developer Cleveland Dilbert] said the same thing. He wanted to ensure that this is done in the right way.”