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 www.doe.ky. 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.