No port impact assessors yet

More than two months after the government signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the George Town port, no consultant has yet been hired to assess the impact the project would have on the environment.

According to the
Department of Environment, it is awaiting information from the developer Atlantic Star and the Port
Authority on consultants they have identified to carry out the impact assessment.

Director of Environment, Gina Ebanks-Petrie, said: ‘We have two names with the relevant information that we will need in order to make a determination and are waiting for the third.’

The Department of Environment will choose one of the three, if they meet set criteria, to assess any potential impact on the environment by the construction and development of a cruise dock and cargo port.

The three companies identified by Atlantic Star as potential consultants to carry out the study are from the US and Europe, said Gary Lindsay of Atlantic Star.

‘The final choice is not down to us,’ Mr. Lindsay said. ‘We make the initial approach. They have to meet the criteria and the terms of reference set by the DoE.’

Mr. Lindsay added that the chosen consultants would work with local experts to garner information regarding port-related marine and traffic issues.

But the fact that the companies short-listed to carry out the environmental impact studies are being picked by Atlantic Star has led to concerns over the independence of the ultimate findings of those consultants.

Adrien Briggs, one of the co-owners of the tenders which currently bring tourists from the cruise ships to the shore, said he feels it is ridiculous that the investing company gets to pick the environmental impact assessors.

‘The three firms that are being picked are being picked by the investing company. The DoE should have the ability to pick them. Of course the investing company will pick three companies that will give them the answers they want to hear,’ Mr. Briggs said.

He added: ‘This is an insult to the intelligence of the people of the Cayman Islands.’

Dive operator Peter Milburn renewed a call for an independent environment impact assessment to be carried out.

‘An independent study has to be done, not just one paid by Atlantic Star,’ he said.

But Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie insisted that her department would closely scrutinise the qualifications and background of the firms short-listed.

‘We have given the developer a list of issues and the basic qualifications that the consultants must meet. We will vet the statements of qualifications given to us to ensure that the firms submitted meet the requirements and can address the issues.’

She said that in many countries, the developer chooses and hires the environmental impact study consultant, but the relevant environmental agency has little or no say in the choice. ‘I don’t know anywhere that implements this system we are talking about now.

‘It is a weak point in the environmental impact assessment process that many people have identified – that the developer chooses the firm and the firms work for the developer. We are proposing that they submit three firms that are qualified, and we do the scrutiny or due diligence on those firms and come up with a decision.’

She added that the DoE was asking for the payment to the chosen firm be placed in escrow until the developer and the DoE sign off on at least the interim reports from the firms.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie pointed out that no environmental impact legislation or regulations exist in Cayman, so arrangements for such studies are determined on a case-by-case basis.

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford told legislators in mid-August that DoE officials would select the company from three names submitted by Atlantic Star.

Mr. Clifford had previously stated in a radio talk show that construction of the port could begin as early as the first quarter of next year.

The new cruise dock will be constructed at the existing passenger terminal on the waterfront in George Town Harbour and cargo operations will move to a new facility on land owned by Atlantic Star less than a mile away on North Church Street.

The cost of the project has not yet been determined.