Golf course approved despite calls for environmental study

A computer-generated image of the planned Ironwood golf course.

A multimillion-dollar project to build a 27-hole golf course in the eastern districts was granted planning approval this week, despite calls for an environmental impact assessment to be carried out before work begins.

Ironwood confirmed Thursday that it has been granted permission by the Central Planning Authority for the Arnold Palmer-designed PGA Championship golf course, the first phase of a planned $350 million leisure and tourism venture.

The Central Planning Authority imposed some conditions but did not request an impact assessment on the project, which will involve reshaping more than 500 acres of brush, mangrove and woodland and the creation of a network of man-made lakes for the golf course.

James McVey, the project director, said, “This is great news. It is a major hurdle cleared and we can get on with building a golf course that the Cayman Islands can be proud of.”

He said the developer is environmentally conscious and would delay construction to account for the blue iguana nesting season. But he said the potential costs and time involved in carrying out an environmental impact assessment would have impacted the viability of the development.

“I suspect it would have delayed things to the point where the money might not have waited for us. It could possibly have killed the whole project,” he said. The Central Planning Authority heard representation Wednesday from the developer, as well as from the National Conservation Council and other objectors.

In its appraisal of the application, the Department of Environment wrote that the 534-acre site, next to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, the hub of the blue iguana recovery program, is largely made up of “pristine undisturbed habitat,” including mangroves and woodland supporting a diverse range of different species.

Ironwood ultimately plans a hotel, retirement homes and a town center in the area and is in discussions with government about an extension to the East-West Arterial Highway to provide speedy access from George Town. Given the likely breadth of the project, the Department of Environment suggested in its analysis that a Planned Area Development application be submitted along with an environmental impact assessment.

It said such an assessment would help “ensure that the development proposals are appropriate, necessary, economically viable, sustainable and based on sound planning principles.”

The department also highlighted concerns that excavation work could take place without any guarantee that the project would come to fruition. It suggested that if the plan were approved, the developer should be required to put up a performance bond, saying government had no other mechanism to seek compensation if the development was “rendered unviable during the lifetime of the construction of the golf course.”

Mr. McVey said construction would begin in October, with the aim of completion within two years.

He said the developer would work with the Department of Environment and the National Trust and had engaged its own environmental engineering consultant to minimize the impact.

He acknowledged there would be significant reshaping of the land, including blasting new lakes.

“We are going to remove some trees and reshape the land,” he said. “Obviously, in two years it won’t look like it does now. To my mind, it is an improvement, but other people look at it differently and that’s fine.”

He said the course would be designed around the natural attributes of the site.

Mr. McVey said the environmental impact assessment process, as currently designed, is not clear enough for developers.

“People use the word EIA and wave it round like a big stick, but they don’t know how much it is going to cost, how long it is going to take. It is problematic. If it was better designed as to the process, it might not be such an issue,” he said.

Ironwood developer David Moffitt said in a press statement Thursday that he was pleased to get planning approval. “We have been working diligently with the community, the National Trust, government, and first-rate local and international companies over the last several years to get this project off the ground and are delighted that the real work is about to begin. We are on the road to making the Ironwood dream a reality.”

He said Ironwood has already shown its desire to work with its neighbors and consider environmental concerns by creating a buffer between the site and the Botanic Park and agreeing to change the route of a proposed road extension after learning of concerns from the National Trust.

Government and Ironwood have still not agreed a deal for the long-discussed plan to extend the East-West Arterial Highway by 10 miles to create easier access to the development.

If an agreement cannot be reached, Ironwood still plans to go ahead with the golf course but will get a package of duty concessions from government. If an agreement is reached for the road, then Ironwood will forgo those concessions.

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  1. Check out the development in Rum Point by Crown Acquisitions Ltd. Dubli golf course and homes sites. Clear cut, devastated, decimated and left for dead. Cayman government approved this sinful example of greed. This was a parrot habitat and home to many animals. Now it is a wasteland, just so the lots could be sold to foreigners. With time, hopefully, the natural flora will retake the land.

  2. Environmental impact assessment should be done before this project is approved! The damage cannot be corrected after and Cayman is developing faster than our Environment can handle! Our Government needs to take our Environment more seriously instead of looking at $$$$$ as you cannot breath air from money. Mangroves produce more oxygen than any regular tree. It takes 6 trees per each individual person to sustain enough oxygen for one year! We are developing with no regard for the impact on such a small fragile Island and its people. Has no one realized the amount of vegetation we lost after Hurricane Ivan!?!? Nothing is wrong with development but the environment needs to be taken into consideration first and far most! Instead of using concrete why are people not using Hemp-create?!?!? Its not like you can smoke building material for goodness sake! Mold and mildew cannot grow on Hemp-create its more durable than concrete! Anyway just take a look at a satellite image of Cayman and see that the most vegetation that is left on this Island is in the Eastern districts in 10 years we will have no trees left and we will be a concrete jungle! It just amazes me everyday the ideas of improving Grand Cayman is to keep developing it and in fact we are destroying it along the way with no regard for the beauty and wildlife of this island. We should be trying to preserve what we have and develop a greener and more sustainable Eco-friendly Cayman.

  3. For the benefit of readers who may not know the laws governing construction and development in Cayman, I think it would be useful to provide some clarity.

    First, a Planned Area Development (PAD) is a model that has been created to provide flexibility to developers who are not sure of exactly how they want to develop a piece of property. The PAD gives them the option to change their plans and to restructure the development after initial planning permission has been granted. Ironwood has not applied for a PAD because the plans for this community are already completed and the intention is to build it the way the plans are currently drawn. The insinuation that a PAD is a submission of a complete plan is not true.

    Second, the application is being submitted in phases, but it is important to note that detailed maps and other plans have also been provided to the Central Planning Authority as background to the decision-making, so their decisions are not being made in a vacuum. This is standard practice for a project of this magnitude and complexity. It is also fair to say that the developer is not going to spend millions of dollars preparing the land only to abandon the project.

    Third, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), has not been undertaken because the rules and the requirements of such a study have not yet been finalised between the Department of Planning and the Department of Environment. In the absence of guidelines for an EIA, Ironwood has engaged with an Environmental Assessment agency – Earth Tech ( who has done an assessment of the property and provided detailed information about the composition of the land and the flora and fauna found there, as well as information on how to mitigate environmental issues. Ironwood developers have been working closely with the National Trust and have been addressing their requests and comments on an ongoing basis – including successfully bringing the National Trust and the NRA together to negotiate a win-win situation with rerouting the East-West Arterial to circumvent sensitive land around the Mastic Trail – a first for Cayman.

    And lastly, Ironwood is being designed by the Arnold Palmer Group, one of the world’s most well-recognised golf brands and themselves stewards of the environment, to satisfy the requirements for the Audubon Society – one of the highest distinctions in environmental sustainability for golf courses.

    Overall, Ironwood is working very hard to be inclusive, to be a good neighbor and to build a community that is respectful of the environment and is sustainable.

  4. Oh yeah, don’t worry – probably no real impact. The first golf course by Arnold Palmer drained all the fresh water from the lens under our well. Never came back. Radix Malorum est Cupiditus – Greed is the root of all evil. I learned that back when expats could go to CIHS. It’s okay, 75 square miles. Plenty more to destroy – I mean develop.