Architect Burns Conolly assists captains in advocacy
Proponents of a plan to develop a cruise berthing facility in the South Sound area have said the benefits of building near Red Bay outweigh those of a potential similar site being erected in George Town.
Speaking during a public meeting at the Seafarer’s Hall on Tuesday, 6 December, advocates of a South Sound berthing facility said that area better meets the needs of the cruise tourism product in Grand Cayman than would building a new facility in the waters near the downtown capital.
“(The Red Bay location) will guarantee ship arrivals and as a result positively affect business in George Town,” said plan presenter Burns Conolly, referring to how inclement weather often forces ships to cancel calls on Grand Cayman due to its status a tendering port.
Mr. Conolly also said that in addition to five Oasis berths and 20 mega yacht berths, the facility would offer a 135-unit hotel.
Regarding transportation from the port, Mr. Conolly said this would be accomplished by tapping into the new South Sound Road plan, recently approved by the National Roads Authority and already gazetted. He said this road could be paid for by the dredging necessary to develop the port, which also would raise millions for government.
Shuttles would be used to take tourists throughout Grand Cayman.
Some of the cons posed by the new port, according to Mr. Conolly, include the fact that the area being proposed is a marine replenishment zone and this will be affected to some degree. He said the loss of a considerable chunk of reef would also be a concern, in addition to changing the view of “Red Bay”.
There is also concern about the potential impact the development would have on the Southwest outer reefs and the dive sites frequented in those areas by the saltation/or moving of sand that may be stirred up and taken down the channel in strong currents.
With regard to whether the proposal is something the Florida Cruise Association would endorse, Mr. Conolly, speaking exclusively to the Caymanian Compass, said he and the captains have only had feedback from ship captains, who they say have indicated their approval. “It is almost identical to the berthing facilities in Nassau, which they use all the time, except we have increased the space between berths,” he said, adding that concerns that the captains did not like turning ships inside the channel were unfounded.
Talks with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association only began this week, according to Mr. Conolly, who said, “If they don’t support it, then it’s going to be a nonstarter. However, they have not made any indication that they would prefer George Town.” Another concern of some individuals at Tuesday night’s meeting was why the site being proposed for the new port was being called Red Bay, when it was actually in South Sound.
Mr. Conolly said in every Sound in Grand Cayman there are different areas, such as the North Sound being home to Little Sound and Duck Pond Cay. However, he conceded the site, though in the Red Bay Lagoon area of the South Sound, was essentially South Sound. He said people were more intent to call it South Sound to simply protest the project.
Though Mr. Conolly still works for the Emerald Sound Development, while representing the building of the new port, he said it was important for people to not get his involvement confused. Though he agreed it might not appear tome some people to be a purely altruistic motive on his part, he was not going to recuse himself from what he knows is the right thing for the Cayman Islands.
“It’s about how this country is going to spend $300 million and how that will benefit us all going forward. For instance, if we had the $300 million facility already in George Town, it still would not have kept the 10 ships that left out of the 14 that came last week. In Red Bay, we would have been able to keep those ships here,” he said.
Mr. Conolly went on to say the view from Emerald Sound would be impacted the most, but he still supported the Red Bay site for port development.
“If anything, Emerald Sound will be affected the greatest,” he said. According to Mr. Conolly, there is also no consideration to sell Emerald Sound to Chinese interests if the port is built and any suggestion to the contrary “is simply ludicrous;” nor were there any plans, he said, to rezone the site for commercial use in the advent of a port facility or apply for a planned area development permit.
“We are going ahead with the Emerald Sound development with the permissions we have. Excavations started two days ago, but if anything, with the view being so obscured our value could even go down. In the event that our coastal works license is not approved or considered, we will simply make the development three times denser to make up for the cost.”
Mr. Conolly said he has heard no official word from government regarding the coastal works application and has only learned about it not being considered in the media. He said he has requested official correspondence.
He said his support of a berthing facility being located near Red Bay had nothing to do with its proximity to Emerald Sound. Instead, Mr. Conolly maintained developing that area was in the best interest of the Cayman Islands. “We have even sent our views and representations to the governor to consider while he is conducting a value for money report on the George Town Port for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” he said.
As far as the environmental risks in Red Bay as opposed to those in George Town, Mr. Conolly said, “They are about the same and the Department of Environment has ranked both locations as 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, and that is before any snorkelling or diving.”
He said as an architect, he has done much design in George Town for the Dart Group and the Kirkconnell’s and if he had any financial interest at all, it would be for his two biggest clients in George Town.
“This is pure,” he said. “We have got to look at this. Spotts is not an option. There is no benefit for me and I am doing this public representation without charge.”
Additional information about the proposed port in South Sound may be found online at caymancruiseport.com