New pier project for George Town harbor

Private company plans dock for cargo ships, mega yachts

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A second pier project, proposed for George Town harbor, “will not compete” with government’s project to build cruise berthing facilities, according to Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell.

A coastal works and dredging application was filed this week on behalf of Balboa Cruise Terminals for a “single finger” pier, close to Burger King on the waterfront. 

According to the application, the pier would provide berthing facilities for mega yachts, tall ships and cargo ships.  

It will be up to Cabinet, after hearing submissions from the Department of Environment and planning officers, to decide whether the harbor can sustain two major pier projects and the impact they might have on environmental issues, including the risk of erosion on Seven Mile Beach. 

At a meeting in Red Bay this week, Mr. Kirkconnell declined to speak in detail about the proposal, but he did not dismiss it. And he hinted it could provide a solution to the unresolved issue of how cargo docking fits into the new plan. 

Consultants PwC advised in an outline business case that government proceed with building two piers for cruise ships at the Royal Watler dock with an option to move the adjoining cargo dock at a later stage. 

Simon Conway of PwC said at Tuesday’s meeting that moving the dock was not deemed affordable or immediately necessary for the cruise berthing project to proceed, despite concerns about the impact on “passenger experience” of the current location, close to where the cruise piers will be built. 

Mr. Kirkconnell, in response to a question from the audience, suggested his preferred long-term option for the cargo dock was for it to move to the north, “somewhere around where Atlantic Star was looking at having a terminal.” 

Balboa’s application for a coastal works license – the marine equivalent of a planning application – fits that description. 

The site, between Mr. Arthurs and the two-story building where La Dolce Vita restaurant is located, is owned by Atlantic Centre Holdings. Architect’s drawings filed with the coastal works application indicate that the pier would extend more than 1,500 feet into the ocean – big enough to accommodate the biggest ships in the world. 

Earlier this year Balboa made an application to build a four-berth cruise facility at the same site. That has been scrapped and replaced with the new application, which indicates the pier will not be used for cruise ships. 

The new application states: “The proposed port will offer an alternative berthing facility for cargo ships, tall ships, mega yachts and coast guard ships ahead of the existing port being redeveloped by government as a cruise ship port.” 

The application also proposes a mini-terminal on land “reclaimed” from the sea. 

“The proposed reclaimed area will accommodate handling of cargo, buildings for immigration, customs, Port Authority, security and support personnel,” it states. 

The project would also require a significant amount of dredging, to a uniform depth of 38 feet below sea level. The footprint would cover two dive sites, Soto’s North and Fish Pot Reef. 

With significant concerns already expressed about the potential impact of government’s own cruise berthing plan and an extensive Environmental Impact Assessment still to take place, it is not clear how the private application would affect this process. Gina Ebanks-Petrie, the director of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, could not be reached for comment Thursday.  

During Tuesday’s meeting at Mary Miller Hall, Tourism Minister Kirkconnell was questioned on whether Cabinet would consider allowing an alternate pier plan to go ahead alongside government’s own plan.  

He said, “The application for the coastal works license and the plan is not in competition with two piers for cruise vessels, it could be cargo.” 

The PwC outline business case acknowledges that a separate pier project could affect demand for cruise berthing, but this assessment appears to be based on the earlier application for a cruise terminal, rather than the fresh application which makes no mention of cruise ships. 

The report states: “PwC is aware that a private group is currently studying a separate berthing project that would be located in the northern end of George Town. While such a berthing facility could have an impact on the demand for a Cayman Islands Government sponsored berthing facility, the status of this other project is unknown and it has not been further considered in this outline business case.” 

In its report, PwC dismissed the option of relocating the cargo dock immediately as part of the cruise berthing project. The consultants acknowledged that this would contribute to an improved passenger experience, but said it would not generate enough additional revenue to be affordable as part of the cruise plan. 

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A pier project to accommodate mega yachts, tall ships and cargo ships – but not cruise ships – has been proposed for George Town harbor. – Photo: Jeff Brammer
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