Cruise plan hinges on environmental report

Plans for cruise berthing facilities in George Town harbour won’t go ahead if an environmental impact report deems the risk to Grand Cayman’s natural resources is too great.

That was the commitment from tourism minister Moses Kirkconnell, questioned about the purpose and scope of the planned environmental impact assessment during a panel debate last week.

He said government would look for another location to “protect the island for future generations” if the report was not “successful”.

The real substance of the environmental assessment, which will likely be conducted by a foreign consultancy firm, won’t begin until a business case has been produced and the specifics of the planned development are known.

Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said there was no question there would be some impact on the environment, including the removal of coral reef caused by dredging of the harbour.

She said the EIA would assess the level of that impact and what could be done to mitigate it. Then it will be up to the government to decide if the cost to the environment is worth the potential benefit to the economy.

“If a pier is constructed or two piers are constructed, there will be environmental impacts,” Ms Ebanks-Petrie said. “We will have to dredge the sea bed in order to create the depth for the ships and in so doing we will be removing coral reef. There is no way round that.

“With respect to the impact on Seven Mile Beach, that is an area where mitigation could come into play with construction technology …

“It isn’t ever going to be a situation where you get this report that goes everything is cool, there’s no impact on the environment, we are good to go.”

Once the report has been completed, it will be up to government to balance the impact on the environment with the economic gains.

Mr. Kirkconnell insisted he would take the report seriously, despite a strong desire to have a port in George Town.

Asked if he would risk going ahead with the plan if the report suggested a significant risk, he said: “Personally no, I wouldn’t be willing to go ahead. I think it has to be a successful report and that would mean we would protect the island for generations to come and not allow this to happen.” If it came to that, he said government would look for another location.

Environmental concerns aside, government wants to see the port in George Town.

“It is not that I am sitting here in a situation where I am not really sure where the majority of people want this dock to go. We campaigned on this issue, we campaigned on rebuilding and revitalising George Town. That is how we were elected,” he said.