Friday marked the deadline for China Harbour Engineering Company to begin the project to upgrade Spotts Jetty and landing facility, although no visible construction work has started yet.
Premier McKeeva Bush said the Spotts project is not ready to go, but the ministerial memorandum of understanding calls for the contractor to spend as much as US$3 million on the Spotts project by the end of November.
“The MOU calls for China Harbour to commit up to $3 million, beginning as soon as possible, on the Spotts Jetty, which we need in the worst kind of way because of inclement weather,” Mr. Bush said. “If China Harbour and the government and the port do not reach a definitive agreement, then we are committed to pay them back what they have spent, up to $3 million on Spotts.”
When seas are too rough for cruise ships to anchor in George Town harbour, they use the Spotts facility instead.
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association supports upgrading the Spotts facility, which CITA Executive Director Trina Christian said is unacceptable “from both a consumer experience standpoint and an environmental standpoint.”
“Again CITA members await further details about what the proposed plan entails,” Ms Christian said.
The Spotts upgrade is one of three projects outlined in the nonbinding agreement with China Harbour, in addition to building and operating cruise ship docking facilities at George Town and developing a cruise ship pier at the Turtle Farm.
According to the memo, the contractor is supposed to complete a feasibility study by the end of July and begin the cruise ship pier projects by the end of November. If an agreement is not reached at that time, then the Cayman government has agreed to reimburse China Harbour for its work on Spotts, up to an amount of US$3 million. China Harbour has retained local firm OA&D, which is doing the design work on the Spotts project. Mr. Bush said the expectation is for local workers to be hired for the projects when possible, though, of course, China Harbour would also use its own employees.
Regarding the project at the Turtle Farm, Mr. Bush said the plan is to construct a new cruise ship berthing facility that could accommodate one medium-sized ship. He blamed opposition party People’s Progressive Movement for nixing the Turtle Farm jetty when it was in power.
“When the Turtle Farm was built, it was meant to have a jetty, or else it wouldn’t have gone ahead. Then the PPM got elected in 2005 and they stopped it. And therefore the Turtle Farm has lost a tremendous amount of money because of not having that jetty,” he said. “Now we have to get it done.”
Ms Christian said CITA is prepared to support a project that would enable the existing West Bay dock to accommodate the direct tendering of tourists from cruise ships without harming popular dive sites in the area. However, CITA has previously opposed proposals to build a new dock in West Bay for cruise berthing, and Ms Christian said she hopes CITA will be consulted before any such plans go forward.
“Whether they are against it or not, I don’t care. I have to do what is right for the Turtle Farm,” Mr. Bush said.
“With this proposed Turtle Farm dock, we have opposed this type of project before, and are not in a position to be able to support it at this time,” Ms Christian said. “However, we do think that if the goal is to get more traffic into West Bay, and to help facilitate that, there could perhaps be a solution with improvements to the existing West Bay dock.”
CITA, a private member-based organization, strongly supports plans to build berthing facilities for cruise ships in George Town, provided the project addresses the needs identified in the Environmental Impact Assessment, Ms Christian said. Similarly, the group’s support for possible tendering to the West Bay dock is predicated on the project being eco-conscious.
“Obviously we wouldn’t want to see an extension that would damage the watersports and diving activities that occur out there,” Ms Christian said. “But there could be something that could complement the activities that are there, and at least allow the tender boats to come up to bring people to the West Bay district, so that they could have an easier time getting to the Turtle Farm and other attractions.”
Ms Christian also said allowing tendering to West Bay dock would protect transportation providers who carry passengers to and from the district’s attractions. Additionally, she noted that a tendering facility in West Bay would be much less expensive than building a new cruise ship dock at the Turtle Farm, a location which would be even more exposed to the elements than the George Town harbour.
“We also have to look at solutions that are going to make sense for us fiscally,” she said, noting that cost is a major issue.