A controversial plan to build a $40 million highway extension through part of the Mastic Trail nature reserve has been revised following negotiations between government and the National Trust.
The planned route for the road was moved to the south of the reserve in a compromise deal that Trust officials described as “historic” and said would save swathes of environmentally significant wetlands.
Premier Alden McLaughlin hailed the deal as a “happy medium” that addresses environmental concerns while ensuring the $360 million Ironwood golf resort project will still go ahead. Ironwood has secured financing to pay for the road, which is seen as crucial to the success of the resort. It will be refunded through money raised from duties on the development, expected to be at least $25 million, as well as on other projects that result from the building of the road.
Government said as many as 20 alternative routes had been discussed during weeks of negotiation with the Trust and the National Roads Authority before the final route was settled.
“We have managed to reach an agreement which everyone is happy with. The project will go ahead and everyone is satisfied,” added Mr. McLaughlin.
The Trust will still lose a small part of the Mastic trail, meaning the walking route will start slightly to the north of its current location from a new parking and information area bordering the new highway.
Ironwood, which hopes to build a $360 million golf and leisure resort in the Frank Sound area, has agreed to finance the road extension.
Christina Pineda, the Trust’s executive director, said the land lost in the reserve is not significant and praised the government for its willingness to compromise.
“We were concerned about the road cutting through a vital portion of wetlands contained in the Mastic Reserve. These wetlands essentially feed the rest of the dry forest. The fact that we have been able to avoid that is a big success story. We have been able to find a way forward that is more acceptable than the previous proposal and minimizes habitat loss in the Mastic Reserve,” Ms. Pineda said.
The compromise over the 10-mile extension to the East-West Arterial road, from where it currently ends in Newlands to Frank Sound, paves the way for further discussions on the equally controversial third segment of that road.
A suggested route has been outlined by the National Roads Authority, but the development of that section of highway, from Frank Sound to Morritt’s resort on the eastern shore of Grand Cayman, is not planned as part of the Ironwood deal and could still be some way off.
The route, as outlined, would go through the Salinas Reserve and Colliers Wilderness Reserve – important habitat for the critically endangered blue iguana.
Kurt Tibbetts, minister for infrastructure, said the administration and the roads authority would be willing to work with the Trust on an alternate route for that portion of the highway as well – assuming they are still in power when the project reaches that phase.
National Trust board member Patricia Bradley described the negotiations with government as “historic.”
“I have been with the Trust since its foundation, and it is the first time we have sat down with government and negotiated over something that really affects the Trust,” she said.
Edward Howard of the National Roads Authority said the changes would not add to the cost of building the road nor affect the design or number of lanes possible.
Denise Gower, a spokesperson for Ironwood, said the developer was happy that a compromise had been reached and hopeful that construction could begin soon.