Initial port project report outlines environmental risks

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. 

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Cruise ships are seen in the background as tourists enjoy a day on the water at Seven Mile Beach.
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2 COMMENTS

  1. Wondering why it has to be so close to shore?

    Seems the cart is being put before the horse – Choose a location and then work against nature to get the depth required by dredging, blasting and drilling – lunacy.
    Any marina will sell you a chart showing depths, so if you need 36 feet, LOOK FOR 36 feet! Don’t pick a 20′ site and try to make it deeper. Anyone who sees 7 mile beach through the year will know that sand MOVES and flows – dig a big hole and soon enough the sand will fill it up again…

    There’s another thing which any cayman seafarer can tell you – waves get bigger as depths decrease. I’ve stood at the back of the Dolce Vita and watched waves hit the seawall and go 25 foot in the air yet out where the Jolly Roger moored, barely a ripple.

    Is the shallower site is being favoured because of the commercial value of the dredged sand?

    I’m sure all are aware how much damage Ivan caused by smothering reefs with sand – dredging just seems like a bad idea. I’m not against this project – just think it’s better to start with a good site than pick a bad site and try to smash it into compliance.

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  2. If you are going to dredge the site for the construction then you better remember to budget it for the period of the life of the dock as nature is very good at filling in holes all the time. Plus if the is a fuel spill from one of these ships – if you ever been to a dock and looked in that water it not clean what sort of containment and clean up facility will there be to stop SMB being accidently being fouled up!

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