Monday, June 24, 2013

Little Cayman's airfield: Private property, public dilemma


 By: Patrick Brendel
Monday,  June 24, 2013

Cayman Islands officials continue to grapple with the ownership situation of Little Cayman’s airstrip.

Specifically, the runway of Edward Bodden Airfield is located on several pieces of private property, not on public land.

That’s been the status quo since 
local residents built the airfield in the 
early 1960s. 

However, a pair of planning applications before the Sister Islands planning authority has raised the issue anew.

Runway, right of way 

Claudia Ryan and Annie Melrose Ryan have applied to the Development Control Board for permission to create two 12-lot subdivisions on about seven acres directly north of the Little Cayman airport runway. Access to the proposed subdivisions would be via a 30-foot vehicular right of way over the airport runway to Guy Banks Road.

The applicants submitted their proposals last November, and the planning board has been soliciting comments from authorities throughout the year. The board listened to statements from the different parties during its 6 May meeting, and then adjourned the application in order to seek comments 
from Cayman Airways.

The Cayman Islands Airports Authority, which operates the airports in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, but not Little Cayman, said for safety reasons it would oppose using the runway as a right of way to access the subdivisions, but emphasised that the authority has no jurisdiction over the Little Cayman airfield, according to planning board records. Little Cayman’s airport is under the operational control of the Sister Islands District 
Administration, according to the Civil Aviation Authority’s website.

An email from the Ministry of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture also indicates that the Lands and Survey Department advised strongly against the proposal. 

In the email, ministry official David Fawcitt said he would like more time to consult with Sister Islands representative and former Cayman Islands Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly about potential solutions, including possibly purchasing the runway land through compulsory acquisition, or providing access to the subdivisions by an alternate road. 

During the 6 May meeting, ministry official Jonathan Jackson asked for the matter to be adjourned so that the landowner may enter into discussions with the ministry.

Private, unlicensed

During the meeting, James M. Ryan acted as the agent for Ms Claudia (his mother) and Ms Annie (his sister-in-law). Mr. Ryan gave a brief history of the Little Cayman airfield, saying in the early 1960s his father, James A. Ryan, was the secretary of Little Cayman Enterprises, owner of the Southern Cross Club. “The island needed a runway. Mr. James A. Ryan handled everything for the runway,” according to the board minutes.

“Mr. [James M.] Ryan stated that the situation with the airport runway being located on private property has been an issue that all governments have ‘ducked’. He tried to get the issue resolved during the 12 years that he was district commissioner and later as chief secretary. He was unsuccessful. Cayman Airways is using private property for an unlicensed runway.

“Mr. Ryan pointed out that a master plan had been created for a new runway over a decade ago, but still, nothing has happened. Time is overdue for answers to this problem. Mr. Ryan acknowledged that cars driving over a runway to access lots in the proposed subdivision is anything but a solution to the problem. He suggested that government consider extending Bill Crescent Road (east of the subject parcel) to give the subject parcel an alternative access,” according to the minutes.

New airport

Richard Smith, director of general aviation for the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands, said his authority has been trying since the late 1960s to develop an airport in Little Cayman, and he has been involved in those efforts since 1981. In November 2002, a master plan for the Little Cayman airport was created, but the project was never built, according to the minutes.

A March 2004 news release indicates the aviation authority intended to break ground on the new Little Cayman airport in September 2004, which is when Hurricane Ivan devastated the Cayman Islands.

According to the news release, the new airport would be located on crown property near the western central part of Little Cayman, about 1.5 miles northeast of Edward Bodden Airfield.

“Mr. Smith stressed that he did not attend the meeting to object to any grant of approval for the subdivision application. His concern is aircraft regulation and safety. He prefers to see the approved airport actually built. Concessions have been given to Cayman Airways Express to continue service to Little Cayman. The margin for safety is getting small as the immediate area develops,” according to the minutes.

In context 

Mr. Smith also said that Cayman Airways wants to purchase larger aircraft, but it cannot because of the limitations of the Little Cayman runway, which is 3,275 feet long and 35 feet wide. At the moment, Little Cayman is served by 19-passenger Twin Otter prop planes. On the other hand, Cayman Brac’s runway, which is 6,010 feet long and 150 feet wide, is able to accommodate Boeing 737 jets.

Keith McCoy, acting CEO of the airports authority, said he believes the current site can be upgraded for a regulated airport, requiring a significant amount of fill to bring the west end of the runway up to standards, and the implementation of height restrictions on neighbouring development.

“Mr. McCoy also reminded that CIAA is currently working on expansion of two airports. A new airport in Little Cayman would significantly impact CIAA’s financial ability to expand airports in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac,” according to the minutes.

As of presstime, the Caymanian Compass could not reach Sister Islands representative and Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell for comment. 


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