Port meeting packed

Up to 150 people attended a public meeting on the proposed cruise and cargo facilities Tuesday evening to voice concerns and ask questions about the multi-million dollar development.

port meeting ebanks

DoE Gina Ebanks-Petrie

The meeting, held by the Department of Environment at the Family Life Centre, included plenty of opposition from the floor to the proposed plans, along with a presentation on the Environmental Impact Assessment to be completed.

The main issues voiced by the public included the potential impacts of erosion and sand movement on Seven Mile Beach from dredging in the port; the desire that other locations be explored for the cargo port; concern that a Memorandum of Understanding to start negotiations was signed with a potential developer before open public consultation had taken place, a feeling that the cruise lines were dictating to the island and a request to extend the public consultation period for the terms of reference of the EIA.

Director for the DoE Gina Ebanks-Petrie apologised for the crowded room. ‘We weren’t expecting this many people,’ she admitted.

Chief Officer with the Ministry of Tourism and Environment Gloria McField-Nixon said it was encouraging to see so many people attend as the process depends on informed participation from the public.

The purpose of the meeting was to help define the scope and the terms of reference for the EIA in order that all relevant impacts of the proposed port facilities are evaluated prior to resolving the proposal.

Representatives from the Port Authority and consultants selected to complete the EIA, CH2MHILL and representatives from the Ministry and Department of Environment and Ministry of Tourism and Environment were in attendance.

The proposed project would separate cruise and cargo facilities with the container port being moved to the north area of George Town in the vicinity of Bodden Road and to build berthing for four cruise ships in George Town.

An MOU was signed in July by the Cayman Islands government, the Port Authority and property developer Atlantic Star Ltd. for the redevelopment of port facilities.

Because of the number of concerns raised at the meeting, the public asked that the consultation process for extending the terms of reference be lengthened to beyond the end of next week. Minister of Tourism and Environment Charles Clifford said he would consider it.

Many seemed to think the project is a given, but Minister Clifford said the MOU is not a contract to build the facility but a framework for negotiations.

Captain Harris McCoy said the public meeting should have been held a long time ago.

Another attendee said, ‘In terms of the rationale, it seems as though the public is being consulted on the kind of house to build and not whether we should have a house in the first instance.’

Many attendees wanted to see alternative locations sought for the cargo port in South Sound, Red Bay or other areas and a suggestion to build an all weather port south of Eden Rock was suggested by Captain Paul Hurlston. Building on the drop-off, he said, there would be no dredging and pilings could be put down, so the water could flow through it.

‘I would still prefer to see the South Sound/Red Bay area developed because the material dredged from that could be used to extend the airport which is so needed’, he said.

Attendee Dalkeith Bothwell asked if there would be a study on the various methods of doing dredging because some would be more harmful than others. He was assured by officials at the meeting that looking at the impacts of various construction methods both during construction and the operational phase is part of the terms of reference.

Walling Whittaker was concerned that an MOU had been signed for something the public did not understand. ‘We need more information. I’m not satisfied that enough rationale has been put forward for this project.’ He said cruise ship is declining and yet all this money was being spent on a cruise dock and the cruise ships were dictating what was being done. ‘My environment of George Town is much more important to me than Carnival [cruise lines],’ he said.

He added that despite spending millions of dollars, ships would still be moored offshore.

Minister Clifford said the rationale is that Cayman needs to remain competitive in the cruise market – a decline in cruise calls continues as the cruise lines consolidate their ships and the newest ships are too large to be tendered. ‘Taxis and many other small businesses depend on cruise tourism so we can’t become complacent,’ he said.

The potential impact of sand movement on Seven Mile and West Bay Beach was a concern raised by many.

Attendees were assured by Ms Ebanks Petrie and consultants that the potential impact of this would be included in the terms of reference.

Minister Clifford said if the project was deemed detrimental to Seven Mile Beach it would be a ‘show stopper’.

Cardinal DaCosta wanted to know how many cubic yards of dredging would be done and how many acres of property would be needed for the inland project and was concerned about the traffic in George Town and all the surrounding homes.

Austin Harris of Cayman Crosstalk said it was another example of commercialisation that would turn repeat stayover tourists away.

Chamber of Commerce President Eddie Thompson commended the government for taking part in public/private partnership but was concerned that businesses in the Royal Watler terminal were having trouble meeting rent payments. He asked why, in this sort of economic climate, such an expansion would take place.

Minister Clifford said this is a global economic situation. ‘We certainly expect that this global economic crisis would be significantly behind us by the time this becomes operational,’ he said.

Ms Ebanks-Petrie said they asked the consultants to look at possible economic impacts of the operation of the project, under which the issue would fall.

Others felt that the cargo should be the priority and that it needs to be moved away from George Town.

Some were concerned that the developer would be in control of the facility. Minister Clifford said, ‘The investor wants a reasonable return on the investment. We’ve made it clear to the investors the government needs to be in control, otherwise it’s a deal breaker.’

Along with separating the cruise and cargo handling to avoid user conflicts, other goals of the project are improving the managing and carrying capacity of cruise and cargo facilities and catering to forecasted demand over the next 25 to 30 years.

Ms Ebanks-Petrie outlined the course of the EIA. Once the terms of reference are defined, CH2MHILL will conduct the EIA, which will be managed by the DoE and the Environmental Advisory Board. The Board will be chaired by EIA and have representation from the National Roads Authority, the Maritime Authority and the Planning Department. Once there is a draft report of the EIA, that will be made available to the public for review and will outline the predicted impacts of the project. The DoE and EAB will also provide comment on the draft report back to the consultant.

A final report will also be reviewed by EAB and EIA. The final decision on whether to proceed with the project would be made by Cabinet.

The study terms of the EIA, prior to public consultation input, currently include:

• Sediment transport within the influence of the project;

• Wave energy under worst-case and typical conditions and potential impact on shore;

• Water quality including the potential for generating turbidity during and after construction;

• Effects on existing coastal eco-systems and resources within the footprint and adjacent areas of the project;

• Effects of any construction blasting, should this be required;

• Effects on existing operations of the port and other maritime related stakeholders;

• Effects on adjacent historical or archaeological resources;

• Extent and scale of impact on adjacent downtown waterfront business district;

• Effects of proposed near shore berthing and operation of ships at berthing facility;

• Effects of the proposed cargo facility on road network;

• Hazard vulnerability due to hurricanes, flooding and storm surge;

• Socio-economic analysis to identify possible negative economic impacts of project with respect to initial funding and operation of project;

• Analysis of alternatives to proposed project and identifying possible measures to prevent or reduce significant impacts both during and after construction.

Conceptual designs have been drawn with three construction methodologies proposed for EIA testing and the cargo port concept include two different designs to undergo EIA testing.

Ownerships and financing models are being reviewed by KPMG for the Port Authority and the government but no details of these have yet been disclosed.

Attendees were asked to contact the DoE with any additions to the terms of reference of the EIA at [email protected] or by calling 949-8469 or fax 949-4020.