The DART family of companies, Cayman’s single largest landholder/property developer, recently submitted a formal application for a coastal works permit to move forward with its controversial and hotly contended plan to remove a stretch of “beach rock” from the sea.
The area is close to the shore near Tiki Beach and is a beloved area for locals and tourists alike. The Dart Real Estate Company wants to develop the surrounding lands into a beachfront resort just to the north of the newly opened Kimpton hotel. The rock formations occurring there would be removed per the permit and filled in with sand because, as the company says, the current state of the beach would not be to the liking of their potential hotel guests and owners. The application for the coastal works permit was submitted by one of DART’s many satellite companies and specifically calls for the evacuation of 1,225 running feet of beach rock down to a depth of +/- 4.5 feet and the area is then to be filled with sand.
DART took samples of the “rocks” last December and determined rationale for the removal. Specifically, they state that they need to perform these “shoreline improvements” and that by removing exposed beach rock comprised of cemented sand they would be removing impedances that would obstruct the new hotel guest’s ability to access the sea to swim. Their overall goal with the excavation is to enhance the quality of the beach for guests and to facilitate a 225 hotel room/90 residence luxury property. They are continuing to press for the acceptance of the application and this is enraging local environmentalists. DART claims that the new development will contribute over USD $600 million to the local economy during the course of construction and planning. Furthermore, they contend, this project would conservatively support upwards of 800 jobs at construction’s peak and support over 1,250 direct and indirect positions in the tourism industry once normal hotel operations commence. They go on to say that over the following 20 years contributions from the project to the local GDP would be in excess of USD $1.7 billion (2%), roughly 4% of the nation’s jobs and +/- 3% of overall direct revenues to the CIG.
DART also drastically downplays the impact of the coastal works will have on the natural marine environment in the area. They say that engineering specialists hired by the company found that the removal of the rocks would have minimal long-term impact on the beach and that the project would allow the beach to recover naturally after storm activity. Local objectors, as well as the Department of Environment and others, have raised troubling concerns and protests have taken place against the project. The DoE made it crystal clear in its findings that this was not lifeless “rock” being removed but a real living, thriving ecosystem. The DoE had advised the Cabinet not to grant the even a test removal of the “rocks” in question but that technical expertise was completely disregarded. They said geologists had previously warned of the dangers of removing the natural rock formation from the beach because of the destabilizing effect on the entire area. In a meticulous review and a memorandum the DoE refuted DART’s claims and made it clear that they did not support the removal but at time of posting they were still planning to move forward with the permit application. Only time will tell whether the economic impact or the environmental impact is more important to the policy makers in these Cayman Islands. Judging by recent construction activity in the area, our guess is that those “rocks” days are numbered…