Airports growth plans ignoring climate crisis

| 28/11/2022 | 89 Comments
Cayman News Service
Owen Roberts International Airport, Grand Cayman

(CNS): Local activists are raising concerns that proposals for the long-term redevelopment of the airports on all three Cayman Islands are being conducted without an overall master plan for the country that would explain how to expand tourism and increase visitor numbers in the face of climate change. Sustainable Cayman has said that, given the climate crisis, it won’t be business as usual in the future and the proposals do not prioritise sustainability in a time of increasing uncertainty.

The Cayman Islands Airport Authority, which has begun to work on plans covering the next two decades, is proposing to extend the Owen Roberts International Airport runway 1,000 feet into the North Sound, build a new airport on Little Cayman, and widen the runway at the airport on Cayman Brac and possiblly upgrade the terminal.

The CIAA has contracted Stantec, consultants from Canada, to help shape the new plans, which has involved a series of public meetings and surveys. At the meeting on Grand Cayman last week, Tourism and Transport Minister Kenneth Bryan said that none of the proposals were “set in stone” as the PACT caucus has yet to make any decisions, and whatever choices are made, all the work will ultimately be subject to environmental impact assessments.

While each redevelopment project poses a threat to the environment, plans for Little Cayman in particular have all been met with concern from activists and residents. The proposal for a runway extension at Owen Roberts is also proving to be a major issue for the public.

This extension into the ocean would increase the length of the existing runway to over 8,000 feet to allow larger aircraft flying long haul from Europe, Asia and elsewhere to land on Grand Cayman, which appears to be a priority for the tourism minister. Bryan has said that the Cayman Islands’ tourism product cannot depend entirely on North America to sustain growth.

The consultants have said that extending the runway west inland is not feasible because of the traffic congestion, the need for more roads and the removal of some buildings and other obstacles. The experts claimed that building into the sea would not impact marine traffic and that the area at the end of the existing runway is very shallow.

However, Sustainable Cayman said the environmental threats are significant. “The remaining mangrove fringe habitat adjacent to the proposed redevelopment is a habitat nursery and there has been no public discussion of any dredging works that might be needed to support a newly extended runway and marine taxi service,” a spokesperson for the non-profit organisation told CNS.

The activists said that the “overall impact would have a negative outcome for the marine environment” and if this extension was necessary, extending west would still be more beneficial.

While the relatively new ORIA expansion is already showing signs of strain, this is mostly during limited busy periods over the weekend. Unfortunately, because of the arrival and departure times, which the government here has almost no control over, the airport is far from busy most of the week, only to reach capacity for two to three hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

Bryan noted the danger of spending millions of dollars redeveloping an airport just to ease congestion for a few hours each week. The consultants expect that passenger numbers will increase by around 1.9% a year over the next two decades, but environmentalists are concerned that the impact of climate change is not being factored into these plans.

“Biodiversity loss and climate change remain two of the biggest threats, especially to Islands such as ours,” Sustainable Cayman said. “We need a master development plan that truly takes into account these precious assets, and that prepares and protects them from future climate events.”

With rising sea levels already directly impacting Cayman, the idea of a runway in the ocean raises obvious concerns that do not seem to have been factored into the proposal. The activists also believe that expanding protected areas, ensuring that food production is sustainable and eliminating plastic use and pollution should be considered first. 

“Without an overall master plan on how these goals will be achieved… the airport proposals are not based on a decision framework that prioritises activities that will sustain the nation and its people over the long term in an era of increasing uncertainty,” Sustainable Cayman said.

Replacing the Edward Bodden Airfield on Little Cayman continues to face significant opposition from the residents there. But even though it does not cater to international flights, officials claim safety and regulatory standards require a new facility, which would be located elsewhere on the island. The current airfield is unlicensed, on privately-owned land, and operates with temporary exemptions from the Civil Aviation Authority, which has been the case for decades.

Little Cayman residents have been extremely vocal about their objection to replacing the existing set-up, concerned that increasing airport capacity would tempt large hotel development on the island, which they do not want. There is some support for a ferry or seaplane service between the two Sister Islands, but during the public meetings, the consultants dismissed those ideas and proposed building an airport on government-owned land on the south side of Little Cayman.

However, the activists note that the environmental implications on Little Cayman are far-reaching and the proposed location for the new runway runs parallel to the Ramsar-listed Booby Pond. 

“Bird strikes, proposed ‘wildlife management’, jet noise, general habitat fragmentation, as well as the upgrades required to the existing infrastructure, such as roads, waste management, sewage and more, would have a significant impact. A ferry service is the least environmentally damaging and likely more cost-effective in comparison,” Sustainable Cayman stated.

The redevelopment of Charles Kirkconnell International Airport on Cayman Brac is far less controversial, focused largely on revamping the terminal and with no plans for a runway extension, just a realignment and widening. The consultants have said that previous proposals to fill in the ponds “to get rid of all the birds” received considerable opposition and were therefore shelved in favour of other mitigation measures.

None of the proposals have yet been costed, and while EIAs will be conducted before any work begins, the plans are being drawn up in the absence of the fully revised National Development Plan or an overall vision for the future of the Cayman Islands.

Many of the independent candidates that went on to form the PACT Government were largely elected as a backlash to the evident over-development of Grand Cayman in particular. But so far, there is no sign of a national conversation about population increase, the growth of tourism and the continued development catering to high-net-worth individuals rather than the people.

See all three public meetings on the CIAA Facebook page.


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Category: Business, development, Local News, Transport

Comments (89)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    At one time, before Grand Cayman became a concrete mass of condos, rich persons’ houses and deteriorating beaches, people would have been glad to fly from Europe to visit here. Not any more.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    All spoke & mirrors, – Kenny has the embarrassment of a few thousand tote bags he needs to quietly offload, the more remote they end up the less anyone hears about it.

  3. Jus Sayin says:

    Am I the only one who thought that these people got elected because the voters were fed up with the PPM’s Pedal-to-the-Metal development pace?
    Well, 18 months gone and our ‘leaders’ haven’t figured out yet how to ease up on the gas.
    Maybe the truth is that it’s really the developers that run things and that the politicians serve. It sure ain’t us who can’t afford a roof over our heads. We only come into play a few months before elections.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Home Affairs might dedicate some focus to realistic geo-strategic infrastructure we could offer to support our motherland and allies in the coming world war against axis authoritarian regimes. At some point we will be called upon to trade our location to secure provision lines, and that resiliency planning is much more important than a few more tourists that may or may not come over the next 5-10 years. Tourists certainly won’t be coming when full scale war breaks out, and we may again have troubles with shipping. As of 30th Nov 2020, Owen Roberts fully paved runway was 8261 ft. Enough sea level takeoff distance for fully-fuelled heavy wide bodies like B777-200, A330/A340, B787-9, B747-400…even a fully-armed B-52 with wing rockets, B-2, B-21. An extra 1000ft would just be additional safety buffer over what we have, which is ample for career pilots. A military-spec RAF/NATO/USAF/DEA/Coast Guard hanger might be a better investment.

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    • Anonymous says:

      You have spoken well.
      Keep a note on that.
      One of the few dynamic
      comments here.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Not convinced by the ww3 talk but really interesting idea none the less. Presumably could double up as a storm shelter for smaller panes too.

  5. Anonymous says:

    When one of the priority economies is international cocaine smuggling and distribution, you need to think globally. Next season on Narcos.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wow, it’s crazy how many people here read the title and instantly went to make a comment rather than reading the actual article. Global emissions isn’t a concern for the activists here, read the article lol.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Well said 6.56, and the rest of you , don’t get your knickers in a twist dears, this is just a looking into the future planning exercise. Nobody is going to add 100ft to the runway tomorrow and land 747s.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I don’t want an extended runway simply because of the loudness of the 747 sized planes. Living under or near the flight path will be awful, the house will shake and you’ll need triple glazing windows to reduce the noise pollution. Cayman is doing alright as it is for tourists.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Longer runways mean aircraft can use less power for take off (called a de-rated takeoff) and therefore less noise and emissions. Newer modern aircraft are also becoming quieter. The Cayman Airways 737 MAX is noticeably quieter than the older aircraft, and I live under the flightpath and can tell the difference!
      747s are now extinct really in passenger configuration and again, the modern long haul aircraft are more fuel efficient and quieter to!
      The government can also help by spending money into building better air routes to avoid built up areas and also restrict aircraft of certain ages to avoid flying in here to.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Noise pollution? Really, for potentially a handful of times a week for 30 seconds each time?

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      • Anonymous says:

        Aircraft noise exposure poses a worldwide health issue. Literature reviews conducted by WHO and within ANIMA have identified a relationship between aircraft noise exposure and adverse health outcomes such as annoyance, sleep disturbance, and cardiovascular diseases.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    ….Might as well dust off the myriad of previously issued Auditor General Reports that get filed and forgotten about… Why the AG continues to bother, is beyond me.

    Just tipex out “Clifton Hunter” or “John Gray” or what was printed for the last “upgrade” to Owen Roberts International Airport…and type over and mark as “ORIA Version 2 – The Madness Continues (Blatantly and In Your Face”).

    High (or more properly stated) “Low” Lights to come in that future AG’s report:

    “Inadequate and improper Tendering Processes”, “Poor oversight”, “No Proper Audit Trail”, “Inadequate Record Keeping”, “Ministerial/Political Interference”, “Lack Of Proper Planning” “Poor Value for the Public’s Money”, “Non-Standard Product”.. etc, etc. ad infinitum….(and beyond).

    Anything else to predict…..? For 10 points? Total (known!) Over Spend – +85%? + 175%? + 225% + #### %? Any takers (and I don’t mean the “stakeholders”!)

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  9. WBW Czar. says:

    An extension would open up additional airlift capacity from, say, Hawaii / Alaska or South Africa. I say bring it on!

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    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, many Hawaiians are looking to travel 9 hours to a smaller tropical island, that is nowhere near as naturally impressive as the Hawaiian Islands.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    leave bloody little Cayman alone otherwise fat cat developers will destroy the island!

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  11. Ricky P says:

    Wow! I dont understand. Concerned about East West arterial impacting wetlands, but quick to fill-in the North Sound and get rid of the birds. Clifford and the PPM had the right idea, go eat! Unfortunately it was a ploy for their own development gains, otherwise the government house and the airport might be in Breakers. It wont matter, tourism will go away as Bryant says, and we wont need Stingray city.

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  12. Patricia Bryan says:

    I have sat on numerous flights to and from Grand Cayman and heard persons voice just what has been on my mind since the renovated new airport…the airport is plain and not attractive on the eyes at all for anyone coming to the Cayman Islands especially for the first time. Gone are almost all of the internal eye-catching decor and imagery, plus the landscaping of beautiful Caymanian trees and foliage. Planting trees contributes to a better climate. More steel does not. This may have been an architecture’s proud finishing product but it adds no flair to this entry point of the Cayman Islands.

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    • Anonymous says:

      As a visitor to many of the Caribbean Islands, I found the airport in Cayman quite fine. I desire efficiency, not glamor. When I arrive, I want to leave as soon as convenient, the decor is not important. You are doing well.

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      • Anonymous says:

        10:02, Check out the new airport built by the Canadians in Bermuda and tell me the Cayman airport is fine, especially on weekends from December to April. Your definition of airport efficiency is completely out of date.

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      • Miami Bob says:

        10:02, You obviously have never arrived on a Saturday or Sunday during the high tourist season. You certainly would not be leaving as soon as convenient unless you were an elected official or CIAA officials and their families who get priority treatment.

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        • Not A EZ Road says:

          Guess you never landed in Miami at any peak times in the day.. Takes over hour and half to get thru boarder control and thats if 8 of 30 lines are open long enough to pick up the speed. Cayman may not be perfect but we arr working on it, and aggree this gov and one before just seem to lose sight of the things that mattet.

    • Anonymous says:

      How quickly we forget the former ultra-cramped departures area with one concession and washrooms that were one step above an outhouse.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    We just spent one hundred million dollars on the new airport upgrade and they still want more.

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    • Hubert says:

      Another $100 million 5 years ago and we would have been set for the next 30 years like at the new Bermuda Airport. We would have had jet bridges too that would have been so convenient in the rainy season.

      Though some people like 10:02 enjoy getting wet at the airport.

      Instead we are going to piddle along with airport development for the next decade. DUMB.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    what do we expect from an Authority with a private sector board full of political appointees.

    this is the same board that could not sort out the parking problem at the airport and now we trust them to redevelop the airport.

    remember the definition of insanity?

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  15. Anonymous says:

    1,000 feet into the sound is a LONG way. Residents that all bought into the high-end condos in Tropical Gardens will not be too happy. View north obscured, the sound water quality & marine environment degraded in that area, potential property values impacted as a result.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    Did anyone properly answer why the Owen Roberts airport can’t be expanded West? The planes fly right over the hospital, school and church already so I’m not really getting it.

    What if you couldn’t extend into Northsound- what would you do?

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    • Anonymous says:

      4:32 if you have to ask you are beyond help

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      • Anonymous says:

        No, it’s a great question. I’d like them to specifically spell out why it’s not possible. Can’t tunnel that bit of Crewe Rd.?

        Same with the LC airport — Please list out exactly what standards/regulations/requirements are not being met.

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    • Anonymous says:

      “Did anyone properly answer why the Owen Roberts airport can’t be expanded West?”

      Hmmm, let’s think about that…

      “The planes fly right over the hospital, school and church already”

      Uh yes

      “I’m not really getting it”

      Something tells me this is a regular thing.

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  17. Bob says:

    What rot. Air travel is a tiny fraction of carbon emissions, around 2.1%. They may be a large proportion of an individual’s direct footprint or voluntarily footprint, but they are not material to climate change. Sometimes these climate whinges need just are too earnest for their own good.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    Whilst I share the campaigners concerns they are barking up completely the wrong tree here. A shortish flight and a weeks stay in a hotel generates a fraction of the emissions and pollution per passenger that a cruise shipper a day for a week generates. A large cruise ship uses almost 100,000 gallons of heavy oil a day, more coming somewhere relatively far like Cayman.

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  19. Anonymous says:

    “… the idea of a runway in the ocean raises obvious concerns that do not seem to have been factored into the proposal.”

    If a runway built above sea level submerges, we have a lot bigger issues to worry about. How much of Cayman is 5 ft above sea level? Most of this island was under water in Ivan and people thought that West Bay sunk into the sea.

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    • anonymous says:

      Not to mention the Whale in the living room when the airport is barely a foot above sea level….and isn’t sea level rising? Duh! I see nothing at all to address this specific aspect of the runway’s height. At the first meeting the consultant said, in answer to the question, “Well we’ll just have to raise the height of the runway.” Good grief.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Airport Planning Manual, identifies nine primary climate impacts, which may include, but are not limited to:
      🌊 Sea level rise: elevated flood risk; seawater damage or inundation of airport infrastructure;
      🌊 Storm surge: damage to airport infrastructure and airport buildings; reduced accessibility, contamination risk.
      🌀 Increased intensity of storms: damage to airport infrastructure and airport buildings; accelerated ageing of the airport facilities and infrastructure, such as runways;
      🥵Changes in average and extreme temperature
      ☔️Changing precipitation (intensity and type): abnormal precipitation quantities or location;
      Etc etc

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  20. _||) says:

    You could increase the number of airplanes landing in Cayman by 10x and we still would not contribute a fraction of a percent more towards global emissions.

    So ordinary people can’t take flights to vacation here because the runway would need extending for bigger planes, but unna fine with the elite private fliers with a carbon footprint 100x you and I, who take planes to destinations that are a 20-minute drive away?

    I do agree that the dredging may have a significant environmental impact, but unna are seriously overblowing how much you think Cayman contributes to global climate change.

    100,000 people is literally only 0.00125% of the planet’s population – how exactly are we causing climate change? Our landmass is probably even less than that – how exactly are our limited mangroves going to solve climate change?

    Build the dam EW arterial.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I like how you use gross emissions to justify your own emissions and per capita emissions to criticise others…

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    • Lifer says:

      Some people care about global emissions. Me is more worried about the emissions increasing in my back yard, the removal of the environment that purifies the sea and air and the growing health conditions affecting the people.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, everyone has been contributing to the end of this show for some time. Contributing less or deciding to go net zero, before being ordered to do so, is a choice that we can each make to be part of the mitigation camp rather than the net extinction camp. But, you’re right, so far the stupids have it.

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    • Anonymous says:

      And this is the crux of the problem, 8 billion people all thinking that they alone can not make a difference.

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  21. Anonymous says:

    The current premier draw on these independents because they were pretending to care about the environment and he was parenting to being an environmental leader. Both sides were actually just pretending and lying. Most of them do not care the rest do not have a clue what to do.

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  22. Anonymous says:

    During the Covid lockdown, the BA777 bypassed Nassau and flew direct to London, on both journeys.

    The flights were mostly full.

    If this plane can do the trip safely, why is a longer runway necessary?

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    • Anonymous says:

      So true. And the newer planes are more fuel efficient, therefore require less fuel, therefore weigh less, therefore need less runway…

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  23. Anonymous says:

    Clueless PACT

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  24. Anonymous says:

    Well first of all climate change/global warming is a myth, so there is that.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I disagree that climate change is a myth, but rather it is a myth that we can prevent it occurring. World population is now over 8 billion… India, China and Asia generally are not stopping producing more children and their life expectancies are increasing. More people consuming more materials and requiring more energy … and that energy is from coal fired power stations not renewables. The 2 billion people in poverty don’t care if Cayman is submerged in 50 years.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t feed the troll.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    North Sound is not really “the ocean.”

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    • Anonymous says:

      True. It is a lagoon. Outside of that is the sea. On the other side of Barbados or Mexico (depending on which way you go) is the ocean.

      Will the world please stop demanding Cayman adopt American nomenclature. That blue wet thing around us is a SEA!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Activist is just another name for angry entitled people. When I was a kid, we were warned oil was imminently running out, another ice age was coming etc. Global warming has now changed to ‘climate change’ (probably because there have been some record low temps in winter) and ironically to go green with electric cars we must use more oil to produce them and employ child labour to mine lithium (but it is ok if it is somewhere else) The academics and scientists are not all in agreement with climate change so who knows what to believe anymore. As someone who grew up riding bikes without a helmet, drank water from lead pipes, chewed lead paint on my cot I seemed to have survived up to now. Moreover, as a kid I cannot recall anyone with all the allergies (except hay fever) we now have in children. Peanuts and dairy were fine at school then. We played in the yard, we scraped our skins, we bled, washed it and carried on, we broke limbs, but we survived. Now we try to create an overly sterile playground for kids. We can’t swim in GT anymore, we can’t go surfing in nor’westers anymore. There are no winners with development and the environment will be ‘impacted’ no matter what. The choices are ‘stay as we are’ or accept development with some impact. Can’t have it both ways. Some years ago a new road was proposed through the ‘iron wood’ forest but it was stopped by the ‘activists’ because a rare orchid grows there, but these are likely to be the same people making noise about traffic congestion. While driving a gas guzzling SUV instead of getting on a bicycle and practicing what they preach. ‘Oh it is too dangerous’ they say but to make any change sacrifice is necessary. Just imagine if just 1000 people get on their bikes it would force driving habits to change and quite possibly more would join in, safety in numbers applies here. Lastly I wonder how many of these activists came to our shores on a carbon neutral sail boat. Instead of a jet plane.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe some kind of education besides facebook would help.

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      • Anonymous says:

        I agree go get some, because fb wasn’t around then. We relied on academic sources and instead of jumping to conclusions you can easily find these research papers. I have never even had a facebook account, but I did get a college education when it was an education and not four years of partying and wild spring breaks!

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        • Anonymous says:

          It’s clear that the timeline by which you have a relevant stake in the future is much shorter than many of us, so you’re welcome to keep your perspective limited to that framing. Maybe leave the future planning concerns and discussion to those of us that have one…

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    • Anonymous says:

      Bobo have you seen SMB lately?

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      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t bother going to the beach anymore. Public beach is just like Jamaica now and the rest of it enclosed with concrete and private signs. One particular complex has even put cones on the road to stop cars parking for public beach access. Oh and there are the fake ‘fire lanes’ too. We sold out to rich foreigners and it is now irreversible, but yeh lets make the runway longer so we can bring more in.

      • Anonymous says:

        8:30 SMB erosion isn’t due to climate change. It’s the result of bad planning. You put a wall or other man-made structure into the ocean and it’s guaranteed to change the water flow and sediment movement.

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  27. Anonymous says:

    there is zero need/demand for more flights from europe and longer runway.
    we can’t even fill a ba flight from the uk…without need for bahamas leg.
    people all over the world travel to many locations on multiple flight trips. it will not stop you if you want to come.
    its not the need for stopover or additional flight that is the problem with our tourist product. it is the price of accomodation.

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    • Anonymous says:

      The Bahamas leg isn’t to fill the flight, it’s to refuel cheaply. No need for it at all. BA can fly direct to LHR from GCM, they did all pandemic.

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      • Anonymous says:

        you miss the point. there is not enough passenger demand for a direct ba flight….maybe once per week if lucky.

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  28. Anonymous says:

    The race to the bottom of the barrel continues. When will people be ever be satisfied – when the entirety of GCM is concreted over ? when the North Sound is completely polluted ? when 7mb becomes 0mb? when the unique and pristine environments of the sister island are destroyed ? It’s so depressing, this is all being driven by greed, with no regard to the future of our children and grand children.

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  29. No Wotes There says:

    Have no fear Little Cayman. The track record of history demonstrates that CIG has no real interest in upgrading your infrastructure.

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  30. Anonymous says:

    We dont need any more tourists and neither does Mr. Dart. No need to expand the runway. Now pay me my consultant fees.

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  31. Okay Nimby's says:

    I think you can be concerned about the CIG doing such a project properly, but the airport extension is needed and likely can be done with minimal impact on the surrounding environment. That would involve proper planning and protection measures, but after construction of the extension on piers you may well end up with a new artificial nursery area under the runway due to the many columns supporting it.

    We need to be smarter about our development and not just scream and shout anytime something is suggested.

    Sustainable Cayman must all work from home and never go anywhere near GT if they are suggesting we rip up existing roads to build to the West!

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    • OK Bob says:

      Is needed you say? See other comments.
      But yes, if you are using an SDG risk management and strategic planning process you would build West.

    • Anonymous says:

      Artificial nursery? Oh really.
      At least we know they considered
      building new infrastructure over the sea.

      Regarding the current plans for Owen Roberts runway,
      the current runway is just fine in my opinion.
      The slow season might call for more tourism revenue.
      I can see where the planners are thinking about filling in the financial gaps in time to come.

      This article is dynamic because it speaks on one of
      Caymans’ Tourism module. The module in short consists of
      the tourist welcome design.

      We also have other modes of
      tourist transportation to think of like
      our cruise ships which also bring
      tourist to our shores.

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