Heavy machinery moves in to fill in the kraal in a screen shot from a video taken by a Brac resident.

A stand-off between opponents and a new aviation firm on Cayman Brac escalated Tuesday after the company filled an old turtle kraal at the site where it plans to station an airfield and helicopter hangar.

The presence of the kraal, which objectors say is an important national heritage site, was cited as one of the key reasons for an appeal against the Development Control Board’s decision to grant planning permission for the project. The aviation firm says it was filled with the appropriate planning permission and in the presence of environmental officials in order to address safety issues due to trespassers.

Simone Scott, one of the members of a group opposing the airfield, said it appeared workers made a beeline for the kraal – an inland water hole used in previous generations to store turtles before they were needed for consumption. No other work was conducted at the site and the objectors believe the kraal was filled in prematurely to undercut their appeal.

“It is a beautiful site and it is important to us for our heritage. It was part of Cayman’s history,” said Scott.

The firm, Dagarro Ltd, released a statement earlier in the day indicating it had filled in a “sink hole” on the site.

Contacted Tuesday, Dagarro CEO Myles Newlove acknowledged that was a reference to the kraal. Newlove said the work was carried out for safety reasons after trespassers had cut paths to the kraal and put up new signage from the neighbouring West End Community Park. He said people were “trafficking in to the site”, creating a safety hazard.

He said Tuesday’s work had been carried out on private land by a private company with planning permission and in the presence of the Department of Environment.

He added, “This is not a heritage site. It is not listed by the National Trust. We acted to protect the community.”

The statement reads, “The new paths created by trespassers could lure children and individuals to the sink hole from the West End Community park, thus placing the community at risk.”

Scott said there had always been paths to the site, which objectors say has been visited by school children for generations.

Protesters say the turtle kraal was an important heritage site.

Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said her staff had been on site but had no role in sanctioning the filling in of the kraal and had raised questions about the urgency of that work.

She said their role in monitoring Tuesday’s works was confined to ensuring there was no interference with endangered Sister Islands rock iguanas at the location.

She said that the fact that the project had received planning permission meant that the developer did not need additional permission to fill in the turtle kraal.

Turtle kraals were used all over the Cayman Islands in past generations to store captured sea turtles for consumption. – Photo: UK National Archives, Colonial Office photographic collection

Newlove said the company was being respectful of the appeal, launched by the National Trust and neighbouring residents, and no substantive building work would be carried out until it was concluded. He said there would be some minor work to clean up the site and make it safe and the filling of the kraal was part of that.

Though the project has drawn vocal opposition, Newlove said he believes the company will be welcomed by the broader Brac community. He said Dagarro was making an initial investment of more than $7 million in the airfield and many in the Brac were receptive to the idea of a new business.

No military links

The company issued a press release earlier Tuesday seeking to dispel “falsehoods and rumors” about its plans for Cayman, including what it describes as “baseless claims” that it has military links.

The company, which plans to station Black Hawk helicopters on the island, has been the focus of concerted opposition from objectors and Newlove says some of this has strayed into outright untruths.

The press release emphasised that Dagarro would be specialising in search and rescue, medical evacuation, and disaster management across the region.

Dagarro will have highly trained crew, including rescue swimmers, based in Cayman Brac, according to its founder.

It stated it aims to be operational in advance of the 2021 hurricane season. Newlove clarified, in an interview with the Compass, that this did not mean its airfield would be operational at that time. It will initially use the international airports on the Brac and Grand Cayman. He said the company plans to have both fixed wing cargo aircraft and helicopters on site by the start of the season, along with specialised disaster response equipment.

According to the release, the company’s leaders met with officials from Customs and Border Control, the fire service and the hospital last week.

The recent meetings held were extremely important in allowing us the opportunity to address any concerns or questions, dispel falsehoods or rumors and proactively ensure the righteousness of our business was conveyed locally,” said Newlove in the release.

He said the company wanted to be “open and transparent” about its business on the Brac and had published a list of FAQs detailing its intentions.

One of the statements on the site seeks to dispel rumours of any links to US military or foreign intelligence agencies.

“We are aware of speculative and unfounded claims on social media and certain local websites. Daggaro has no direct or indirect connection to any such military or governmental agency,” it states.

In its press release, Daggaro said it had been readying for launch over the past year and has procured state-of-the-art disaster management equipment and software with the aim of bringing a new level of service to the region.

“Our specialist team of professionals is steadily growing within the Caribbean region and looks forward to the arrival of our fixed wing and rotary assets to be based in the Cayman Islands, in the coming months.

“We will be the first private company within the Caribbean to offer such specialized emergency and safety services; available to government, non-governmental agencies, commercial businesses and private individuals,” said Newlove.

Brac residents have expressed opposition both to the business itself and to the location for the helicopter hangar,  aircraft parking area and offices

A social media page No Black Hawks CYB has become the focus for many of the questions, concerns and speculation from the community.

A picture of the kraal being filled was posted on the site Tuesday, with the caption, “Screen shot of a video from a young Caymanian watching the ‘kraal’ being filled in, feeling helpless as our history, culture and environment is being destroyed right in front of his eyes.”

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