Port will impact environment

Minister for Tourism and Environment Charles Clifford says it is time to reconsider whether recreational diving in proximity to a commercial port is such a good idea.

He was speaking at the recent press briefing to announce the signing of the MOU between the Cayman Islands Government, the Port Authority and property developer Atlantic Star Ltd. for the redevelopment of port facilities in George Town.

He said all possible efforts will be made to safeguard George Town Harbour dive sites during the project. But he questioned whether recreational diving in a commercial port is advisable.

The port redevelopment will include the separation of cargo and cruise facilities, with cargo facilities being moved north of the port (in the vicinity of Mr. Arthur’s store) and cruise berthing facilities (for four ships) being built at the existing port site.

Mr. Clifford said that it looks like the Wreck of the Cali will be unaffected by the development, but at this stage he said he did not know about others.

But he also spoke about the possible relocation of some wrecks.

‘Because even those wrecks that are unaffected, I don’t know that it’s prudent for us as a government to continue to encourage recreational diving in a commercial port.

‘That’s not a good idea and I think that ultimately we need to begin to step back from that mindset.

‘I can tell you that although it’s a bit early to speak in any detail on this, we’re working closely with the CITA on the creation of another site, which I think will certainly add to our product offering in Cayman, on the dive side.’

An Environmental Impact Assessment for the port redevelopment is to take place over the next four to five months, in parallel with the detailed negotiations that are taking place on such things as design and financial modelling. The EIA’s outcome will better inform the decision making process.

When asked what would happen if the EIA’s findings were to suggest that the project would be detrimental to the environment, Mr. Clifford said, ‘We’re talking about our economy here. I’m not going to stand here and say if we do something in the marine environment that it’s not going to have an impact. It is going to have an impact on the environment.

‘The question is to what extent is it going to affect the environment and what we can do to mitigate that. And those are the questions that we have to work through. But I can assure you we are committed to the Environmental Impact Assessment, which will essentially be supervised by the Department of Environment.’

He noted that while they don’t want to prejudge what the findings might be, the design may very well change. ‘Perhaps we might have to look at another location in the vicinity. We don’t know. It’s just too early to say that.’

Mr. Clifford said that land reclamation would likely be a part of the project. ‘When we talk about berthing facilities the industry standard essentially is to have approximately two acres of property per ship, so I think there is going to have to be some land reclamation.’

Mr. Gary Lindsay, project manager with Atlantic Star Ltd. said the company has committed significant funds in marine studies, environmental engineering, architecture and preliminary activities prior to entering into any agreement with any party.

He noted that the company’s owner Mr. Fahad Al Rashid, has a degree in marine affairs and has guided this project with underlying concerns for environmental impacts.