Aviation company Daggaro has begun mechanical clearing of land next to Cayman Brac’s Charles Kirkconnell International Airport, to prepare for constructing its aircraft parking apron and hangar from where it will operate its two Black Hawk helicopters.
The Switzerland-headquartered company, which says its work will involve search and rescue, disaster response and medical evacuation services across the region, will operate its flights from an airfield beside the airport.
Daggaro’s plan to set up a $12 million airbase on the island has met opposition from several Brac residents, as well as from the National Trust.
The company’s CEO Myles Newlove, in a press release issued on Friday, said Daggaro had “tried very hard to balance development with environmental protection”, and that the current clearing work was “in accordance with Cayman planning approval”.
The Development Control Board granted the company planning permission in December last year. That permission included a number of conditions, including that there be no site clearing during iguana nesting season, from May to September; that native vegetation be retained where possible; and that the Department of Environment is informed two weeks prior to the commencement of land clearing.
Other conditions included getting approval for construction, plumbing, electrical work and liquefied petroleum gas installation details from Building Control. Once those are approved, as applicable, confirmation must be obtained in writing from the Planning Office prior to the start of construction work, the Development Control Board said in granting permission.
A video of the site clearing was posted on Friday on the Facebook page of the No Black Hawks CYB, a group which is opposing the project.
“Isn’t there a hearing to take place before construction work can begin on the Daggaro property on Cayman Brac?” the group’s posting asked.
Earlier work on the site, in January, in which Daggaro filled in an old turtle kraal – describing it as the filling of a sinkhole for safety reasons – was met with criticism from a number of Cayman Brackers who said they considered it to be an important national heritage site.
Newlove said the company had taken into account comments from the public, and would be clearing a smaller area of land than originally planned.
“As a result of the feedback we solicited and received from multiple sources, we adjusted our plan where possible,” Newlove said. “The changes include redesigning our hangar to reduce the footprint. That downsizing reduces the area we need to clear and preserves more of the natural vegetation. We are working hard to be righteous and transparent members of the community and to bring much needed jobs to support Cayman Brac, following the completion of the project.”
Daggaro, in its statement, said it had worked closely with environmental experts on the project, and had determined that there was only one endangered Sister Islands rock iguana on the site.
The statement said, “Various media, social media groups, environmentalists, and individuals had made unsupportable claims about high concentration of Sister Island Rock Iguanas on the property. However, multiple, extensive in-depth and multi-day site surveys by Cayman Islands Department of Environment and its internationally recognized rock iguana experts could only locate one resident female on the property.
“It has since being safely relocated by DOE for the duration of the clearing activities.”
Daggaro said it had also been working closely with the DoE “to design procedures to ensure no other iguanas would be harmed during the development activity”.
In response to a query from the Compass, DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie, said, “As per their planning permission, Daggaro contacted the DoE prior to commencing site clearing works to establish the presence of any Sister Islands Rock Iguanas on the application site. DoE staff conducted walkover surveys of the site and confirmed that there was one rock iguana living in a retreat on the site.
“Given the nature of the works – land clearing and filling – there were limited options available to minimise the risk of harm to the Iguana. The DoE has therefore temporarily removed the iguana from the site and Daggaro workers have been briefed to ensure that no iguanas that stray onto the site from the neighbouring Community Park are harmed during the works. Following completion of the clearing and filling works, the DoE will release the iguana back to the Community Park site.”