A new road that would cut through the Central Mangrove Wetlands to link Bodden Town to Rum Point is under consideration.
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller proposed the arterial road, which spans nearly five miles, along with two other farm roads. The proposal was referred to the National Conservation Council for consultation before being gazetted.
The National Roads Authority does not appear to have had any input in the proposal at this point, and the conservation council ruled on Wednesday that an environmental impact assessment would be required before the route of the road could be gazetted.
The council heard that there had been no traffic studies to justify the need for the roads, and development potential would be limited because the land bordering the proposed route is zoned as agricultural.
“The arbitrary selection of a road corridor without any strategic assessment is not something the DoE can support,” Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said in a presentation to the council.
She said it was important that strategic studies investigating the need for the road and an environmental impact assessment take place before the road is gazetted, rather than waiting until construction is being contemplated.
“In our experience, once a road is gazetted, development applications inevitably follow because there is an expectation that the land will be opened up.
“There becomes little opportunity to realign the road. Even though it is only a road on paper, it becomes concreted as development applications go forward.”
She said there was no indication of any sort of traffic issue that the road was designed to resolve, or that the route was part of any strategic national roads plan.
Colleen Stoetzel, the planning department’s representative on the council, said the usual process would be for the National Roads Authority to carry out a traffic impact assessment before a road was contemplated. She added that the population in the area affected was not growing, there was limited new development in North Side or Rum Point, and that the zoning along the proposed route was largely agriculture.
Christine Rose-Smyth, chairwoman of the council, said the three roads proposed by Mr. Miller added up to some 10 miles of road through pristine habitat.
Together with the proposed 10-mile extension to the East-West Arterial Highway for the Ironwood development, which is about to undergo an environmental impact assessment, she said the projects represent a threat to large swathes of pristine habitat.
In its screening opinion on the road proposal, given to council members at Wednesday’s meeting, the Department of Environment technical review committee described the Central Mangrove Wetlands as the “ecological heart” of Grand Cayman.
It stated, “The need for a public road along this route has not been objectively evaluated. Large tracts of pristine primary habitat of high ecological and biodiversity value will be adversely affected with the proposed route alignment.
“In the absence of any strategic environmental overview of the proposed alignment, informed by input from the Departments of Planning and Environment, the National Roads Authority and the Water Authority, together with extensive public consultation, the sustainability of this road proposal needs due consideration.”
The council also reported Wednesday that Ironwood and government plan to proceed with an environmental impact assessment on a separate plan for a 10-mile extension to the East-West Arterial Highway to help provide speedy access to a planned golf resort. The council ordered the environmental study for the project last year and confirmed Wednesday that government and the developer had responded that they wished to proceed. There will now be a public consultation on scoping the remit for the study.