Port MOU signed

The first step towards Grand Cayman having cruise berthing facilities for four ships in George Town has become a reality.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Tuesday by the Cayman Islands Government, the Port Authority and property developer Atlantic Star Ltd. for the redevelopment of port facilities.

This will include the separation of cargo and cruise facilities, with cargo facilities being moved north of the port and cruise berthing facilities (for four ships) being built at the existing port site.

The relocation of the cargo dock becomes possible because Atlantic Star Ltd. owns around seven acres of property north of the port, just south of Mr. Arthur Bodden’s store.

At a press conference to announce the signing yesterday (Thursday) Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford named it ‘a very important day for the Cayman Islands’.

The MOU, he said, will allow the parties to enter into detailed discussions on areas such as design and financial modelling for the development. The plan is to negotiate on and finalise an agreement in the next three months.

While Minister Clifford did note that he wished they were further along with the project, he said that under previous negotiations with the cruise lines, cruise and cargo facilities would have had to co-exist. ‘The government is much more comfortable with the idea of separate handling facilities for cruise passengers and cargo operations. We are confident the project will improve both critical port functions.’

Port Authority Chairman Wayne Panton pointed to the need to redevelop the cargo facilities noting that the amount of cargo it handled had doubled from 2004 to 2006.

‘This is a long-term solution, which must meet the needs of the country for decades to come.’

An Environmental Impact Assessment will take place parallel to the negotiations.

Director of the Department of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie said the EIA will better inform processes such as planning permission and coastal licences for the project but will not replace the normal decision making processes.

After a process involving various stages such as data collection, oceanographic work, specialist studies and evaluation of the sensitivity of the environment to potential impact, the final stage of the EIA will then look at mitigating any adverse effects on the environment, along with looking at preferred alternative designs.

Mrs Ebanks-Petrie said the EIA will not just look at the construction but look at the operational side of the project and local stakeholders will have input during the EIA process.

Mr. Clifford said the project will allow for additional improvements in George Town and beyond the port facilities. For instance, they will look more closely at vehicular traffic control in George Town and will more than likely allow some roads to be pedestrianised. He mentioned Harbour Drive from the junction of Fort Street to Goring Avenue as an area they will look at.

He noted that when the cargo facility moves north of central George Town additional infrastructure may be need to connect that with the cargo distribution centre in Industrial Park.

Mr. Clifford said that the cruise lines will be an important partner in this redevelopment process from a design perspective and some are seeking to invest in it.

Florida Caribbean Cruise Association President Michele Paige said, ‘We expect this project will have a positive impact on all the players in the industry and indeed the Cayman Islands economy as a whole.’

Mr. Clifford said the negotiations will dictate the timeline for the project.

It is likely that one pier would be built first along with the cargo facility and once the cargo facility has moved the second pier would be built.

The Minister said the financing and financial modelling will come out in the negotiations. In a previous interview he did make a guess that it would take US$150 million to relocate the cargo facilities, along with an additional US$80 million to develop the cruise facilities.

Relevant stakeholders such as the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, the Association for Advancement of Cruise Tourism and the Chamber of Commerce had all been consulted and were in support of the concept, he said.

President of the CITA Stephen Broadbelt said, ‘We’re enthusiastic and fully support the project but that is contingent on responsible development and providing the DoE has a final say in the design.’

He said a concern would be propeller wash and sediment from ships on coral reefs.

Mr. Gary Lindsay of Atlantic Star Ltd. noted that owner Mr. Fahad Al Rashid is a naturalised Caymanian. To date the company has invested over US$60 million in land acquisition and property development in Grand Cayman.

The Minister said extensive meetings will be scheduled with all stakeholder groups and the general public in the next three months.