Port consultation period extended

The public has an additional week to give input to the environmental impact assessment for the proposed port development project.

Government has agreed to extend the consultation period from 23 January to 30 January said Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts at Thursday’s Cabinet press briefing.

The extension was requested at a public meeting on the proposed cruise and cargo facilities last week.

And, through the Freedom of Information Law the government is releasing the MOU, signed between the Government, the Port Authority and developer Atlantic Star Ltd. in July.

Mr. Tibbetts said the memorandum of understanding concerning the port project between the Government, the Port Authority and Atlantic Star Ltd had also been extended to 31 January.

That MOU document, which had previously not been made public, was released to the media immediately after the Cabinet press briefing

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. The project would also entail the construction of berthing facilities for four cruise ships in George Town.

Mr. Tibbetts said there had been a great deal of speculation on the MOU, with some alleging that the government has secretly contracted with private parties to build the port and that the EIA is a mere formality.

‘This is absolutely not the case,’ he said.

He said the MOU sets out a framework for negotiations to take place between the parties to separate cruise and cargo facilities

‘There is nothing in the MOU that cannot withstand such public scrutiny,’ he said.

Mr. Tibbetts said George Town Harbour has been home to a fully functional cruise and cargo port for decades.

‘Anchors have been dropped, piers built and commercial zones established to facilitate the lifeline of all three of these islands.’

In many respects significant damage has already been done to that area, he said. ‘It has been proposed by the Port Authority and the Government that the existing site is the most appropriate location for future expansion,’ he said.

Minister Clifford said there had suggestions about building in other places such as South Sound and the North Sound, which, he said, are pristine environments. He said he believes the location is the best natural port.

‘To go into other areas would create significantly more damage rather than redeveloping the existing port.’

But he said consultants may come up with a conclusion that alternate sites need to be examined.

Mr. Tibbetts said, ‘As we prepare to enhance our current port facilities we are considering how we might design the project to avoid harm where it is possible or otherwise how to mitigate or lessen such harm’.

US-based firm CH2MHILL will conduct the EIA and it will be managed by the DoE and the Environmental Advisory Board

But Mr. Tibbetts said the government will not proceed with the projects in the proposed locations if it is scientifically determined that serious and unavoidable harm would be caused, for instance to the Seven Mile Beach area.

‘However, if the EIA points to responsible ways to avoid or minimise negative impacts and to create net benefits, then we owe it to this and future generations to build the necessary infrastructure to support our economic survival and success,’ he said.

Commenting on the financial needs of building such cruise berthing facilities, Mr. Tibbetts said cruise arrivals are declining and competition in the region is growing intensely as berthing facilities are becoming the norm. ‘We cannot afford to be complacent and to allow an industry representing 10 per cent of our GDP_ to shrink or to fail.

‘We examined the cost of doing nothing – millions of dollars in revenue to government and local businesses as well as thousands of jobs are at stake if we allow the cruise sector to stagnate or die.’

He also explained that existing port facilities will be incapable of dealing with cargo demand some time between 2012 and 2014.

Public input on the draft terms of reference for the EIA can be submitted to the Department of Environment [email protected] or by calling 949 8469 or fax 949 4020.