Concern over flood threat to George Town

Impact of extensive dredging for cruise piers debated

George Town will remain the preferred location for Cayman’s new cruise dock unless it proves environmentally impossible, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell insisted Wednesday amid suggestions that government should consider other sites.

With dive pioneer Bob Soto and others warning reefs and dive sites would be wiped out and the capital exposed to flooding during storms if the pier project went ahead as planned, Mr. Kirkconnell stressed the “revitalization of George Town” was a key goal.

He said government planned to fulfill its election promise to build the piers in the capital unless an environmental impact assessment identified a “roadblock” that could not be crossed.

About 150 people attended a meeting at Mary Miller Hall in Red Bay Wednesday night to discuss the parameters of that study, which will be carried out by private consultants next year. Public concerns centered on the level of dredging required in the harbor and the impact that could have on waves and storm surge in George Town as well as erosion of Seven Mile Beach.

Mr. Soto said parliamentarians would “need a mask and snorkel” to meet in the Legislative Assembly if the project went ahead.

Others, including his son, George Town business owner Danny Soto, said the capital was dying and desperately needed the port.

He suggested the layout of the proposed dock could be changed, potentially involving building a pier that extends a few hundred yards out to sea to where the cruise ships anchor now, to avoid so much dredging. The current plan requires 626,000 cubic meters of dredging – equivalent to 250 Olympic-size swimming pools.

John MacKenzie, managing director of West Indian Marine, warned that Cayman had been talking about building the piers for 40 years and needed to accept there would be some environmental impact.

“There’s technology and methodology to minimize the impact. You can’t eliminate it, but we should all come together and do our best to manage it, so this is a project that goes through, otherwise we’ll be talking about it for another 40 years,” he said.

Others, including Kent Eldemire, owner of several tourism businesses, said plans for a dock in South Sound should be reconsidered.

Mr. Kirkconnell said he believed the government had a mandate from the people to build the piers in George Town.

“The PPM government was elected on a platform of the revitalization of George Town; the port was part of it, the development of the airport was part of it.

“We’ve continued the process of going forward to find out if we can do these piers in the right way in George Town. We will continue until we find a roadblock that says we can’t do it in George Town. Then we’ll have to find another place.”

Other concerns raised included potential erosion to Seven Mile Beach and the loss of several dive sites, including the wreck of the Balboa and Cheeseburger Reef.

Bob Soto, who started Cayman’s first dive shop at the site of the current Lobster Pot in the 1950s, said the vast majority of tourists coming off the ships snorkeled on those sites and insisted it made no sense to get rid of them.

Experts from Mott MacDonald, the engineering company hired to draw up the terms of reference for the environmental study, said there was potential to tweak the design based on the findings of the environmental impact assessment, but other locations are not currently under consideration

“During the development of the EIA it is possible that the description of the project, the design of the project is going to have to be modified, that is perfectly normal.

“The designers and the people doing the EIA work together to optimize the design and to minimize the impact on both the environment and the people of the Cayman Islands,” said Isabelle Stanley, of the firm.

Ms Stanley gave a presentation of Mott MacDonald’s initial findings and outlined the broad areas that the EIA would look at, which range from traffic impacts to sediment movement and beach erosion.

She said the initial study had suggested that blasting would not be required to achieve the required depth of 38-feet in the harbor, from a current depth of around 20 feet. She acknowledged there was some public skepticism about that.

She said it would be up to the people of the Cayman Islands to decide, based on the findings of the EIA, if they wanted to go ahead with the plan. “There is no doubt that there are projects which never come to fruition because the environmental impacts are considered too high,” she added.

The public can still view the terms of reference for the environmental impact assessment at Comments can be submitted via email to [email protected], mailed to Department of Environment, P.O. Box 10202, Grand Cayman KY1-1002, or hand delivered to Department of Environment, Environmental Centre, 580 North Sound Road, George Town, Grand Cayman.

The comment period will officially close at 9 a.m. on Dec. 2.


  1. A feasibility study should have covered all those concerns, also it would point the officials to the logical design of which the environmental impact study based it’s researched. Sounds like we are still in the middle of the feasibility study. Is it feasible to dredge the harbour without adversely effecting George Town and 7mile beach yes or no! is it feasible to build an elevated dock that extends out to deeper water, with section filled for strength, and sections left open for surge, yes or no.

  2. To do it right and with minimum environmental impact, CI need to involve the world’s best engineering minds, for which it has no money. They can’t even tackle the HOTTEST , the stinkiest, the #1 problem the Mount Trashmore, and you trust that they can do it right with the piers?
    Mandate from a handful of people is not a good reason for significant changes in the maritime environment (negative changes or reactions in the area’s wildlife and natural processes; coastal erosion and alongshore sediment transport; wave patterns change; crystalline waters of SMB can become severely clouded with silt. etc.).
    When it comes to revitalization of the Capital (another big word for something so small), Penny Wise and Dollar Foolish comes to mind. Increased sales of junk hardly qualify as revitalization. If they have something else in mind, I am not aware of that.
    Cayman Islands leaders have no vision. Focus should be on Eco tourism. But to be attractive as an Eco destination, CI should focus on preservation and conservation (which can create many jobs) of its main an ONLY attraction- warm tropical waters and white sandy beaches. Such natural beauty is exceptional. Use it wisely.

  3. Consulting firms will ONLY do what they are asked to…

    If asked for ideas to make a given site work, that’s what their report will show (even if it is making the best of a bad lot). But if you ask them for the ‘Best’ site, you get a different answer – they aren’t considering other sites if that was not in the brief.

    I’ve already made an online comment along these lines but the stakes are too high, so at the risk of repeating myself…

    The process is simple
    1. take a marine chart showing depths.
    2. shade out any area with less than 28 foot depth.
    3. shade out any area with significant reefs, dive sites, wrecks, etc.
    4. find sites where the map isn’t shaded, big enough for the proposed terminal.
    5. consider other factors like predominant directions for weather systems (how many days a year can cruise ships not moor in GT)
    6. Don’t forget to factor in room for future expansion

    Any solution requiring dredging WILL fail – sand will move and fill the hole so basically it will need to be re-dredged several times a year. Dumping the sand up at the top of the Seven Mile Beach will kill reefs in the process of trying to replenish the beach.

    Modifying a shallow site is also a bad idea if you consider waves.
    Wave height is a function of depth – at a shallow site (even if there is a hole in the middle with a ship in it) it is much more intense than where there is deep water. A tsunami travelling deep oceans will be less than half an inch but as it approaches coastal zones heights build to give a devastating wave.

    So, a terminal built in deeper (40 foot) water would give significantly calmer waters than one in 20 foot.

    The question is;-
    Is this about the island as a whole or a quick fix for a few businesses in Georgetown?

    Many people avoid George Town during the day precisely because of the number of cruise shippers – traffic is gridlocked and there is no parking. Of an evening, it is better but still not ideal.

    There is talk of pedestrianising George Town, good idea but only a partial solution – you actually need to get the people TO and FROM the capital for that to work.

    Maybe it’s time to look at a more holistic solution;-
    Put the airport where it needs to be, raised up in the middle of the island. Maybe the cruise terminal goes at the current backup site at Spotts landing both of which are silly ideas on their own as you end up with people stuck in the middle of nowhere. But add a mass transit system, an elevated railway for instance and you’ve got a Cayman set for the rest of the 21st century and beyond.

    Imagine the experience from the point of view of a tourist arriving at the airport – you get to sightsee the island at tree top height above the traffic – a 2 minute stop at Bodden Town station (Hmm, this looks interesting, must come here sometime this week) on to Georgetown (Ditto), then up to their stop at Camana Bay or Governors Square with a 2 minute walk or taxi to their hotel. Of an evening those same tourist will visit Restaurants and Shops in GT knowing that their hotel is only minutes away and they don’t have to find (and pay for) a Taxi afterwards.

    For cruise shippers the 6 mile trip from Spotts to GT would be under 5 minutes but again would show the island off.

    The system could expand in phases to the east end (Dr Shetty would surely contribute) and up to West Bay, bringing prosperity with it. Imagine getting from West Bay to GT in 10 minutes rain or shine (even in rainy season with 6 inches of water on the road or as the road grinds to a halt after a minor fender bender) – yes, people would want to leave their car at home. Property markets along the route would boom as commuting became easier.

    These systems work well around the world and Cayman is an ideal candidate – Had London not had an effective mass transit system, the winning bid for the 2012 Olympics would not have happened.

    Just an idea for the hat, maybe it will trigger someone to think of alternatives – the one on the table seems like Russian roulette – from the government’s own figures the smaller number of air passengers outspend those on cruise ships 3 to 1 and many of those are divers.

    Given the effort put in by so many over the years to add new dive sites, including the Kittiwake Marine Park, it beggars belief that the loss of these sites could be treated with such a cavalier attitude.

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