Public meeting set Nov. 20 as environmental study launches
The threat of erosion on Seven Mile Beach has been highlighted as one of the potential environmental impacts of the multimillion-dollar project to build new cruise piers in George Town.
An initial “desk based” environmental review warned that the level of dredging required in George Town harbor would affect wave heights and “sediment transport” along the coast, prompting concerns about the impact on the island’s most treasured natural attraction.
Early indications are that the impact will be manageable, but politicians insist they will wait for the findings of a full Environmental Impact Assessment before making a final decision on whether the pier project can proceed.
A public meeting has been set for Nov. 20 at Mary Miller Hall in Red Bay for residents to review and comment on “terms of reference” outlining the scope and intended approach of the environmental study.
The full study, which will be carried out by private consultants following a competitive bid process, will take place over eight months next year.
“We don’t want at the end of this for someone to say, we should have looked at this or we should have looked at that,” said tourism councilor Joey Hew. “Everyone has an opportunity to raise their concerns. Nothing that anyone cares about should get missed.”
The initial review, conducted by engineering consultants Mott McDonald, highlighted the expected impact on Seven Mile Beach among a number of potential problems.
The project requires 626,000 cubic meters of dredging – equivalent to 250 Olympic-size swimming pools.
The excavation of the sea bed required to achieve that level of dredging is expected to lead to “sediment impacts” elsewhere.
“There is concern over potential impacts on the Seven Mile Beach area to the north of the port,” the report states.
It adds that any “beach quality sand” recovered through dredging could be used to replenish beaches affected by erosion.
The EIA will also examine other environmental concerns, including the threat to marine life and habitats, impact on tides and currents in the harbor and the effect of increased tourist numbers on quality of life in Cayman.
Other impacts highlighted in Mott McDonald’s initial review include the loss of two shipwrecks – the Balboa and the Cali, which are described as popular dive sites but not “archaeologically significant.”
“The marine habitat is likely to be affected with the potential destruction of corals leading to a knock-on effect for tourism operators in the harbor area,” the report states. “Dive sites are likely to destroyed or impacted by the construction of a berthing facility.”
The EIA will also be asked to consider the potential impact of climate change. The report points out that the piers may still be operational into the “next century” and developers need to consider the potential impact of global warming and rising sea levels.
“Coastal infrastructure assets are already vulnerable to the climate. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this vulnerability with significant implications for assets, particularly those with long operational lifetimes.
“Action is, required to ensure new infrastructure assets are more efficient, robust and resilient to changes in climatic conditions, through considered planning and design.
“The EIA process has an important role in ensuring that future developments respond to the issue of climate change and that their impacts do not exacerbate the effects on the environment, society or the economy.”
To download the terms of reference for the Environmental Impact Assessment and to find out how to give feedback go too www.doe.ky. The Nov. 20 meeting starts at 6 p.m. with an open house followed by a presentation and question-and-answer session.