A report detailing the damage to coral reefs that will be caused by new cruise piers in George Town harbor will be funded, in part, through the Environmental Protection Fund.
Government voted to allocate $2.5 million from the fund to help pay for the environmental impact assessment on the port project, despite objections from some legislators that it was not an appropriate use of the money.
The EIA, which has already been carried out, concluded that building a new cruise port in George Town would involve removing 15 acres of reef from the harbor and damaging a similar amount.
The Environmental Protection Fund, fed through taxes from tourists, was set up in 1997 to help “defray expenditure” incurred in protecting the environment.
It has rarely been used since then and had amassed $52 million, prior to Thursday’s decision to siphon off $5.1 million to pay for various projects, including the port EIA.
East End legislator Arden McLean questioned whether the fund could legitimately be used to pay for a study that indicated so much damage to the reefs.
“It is stretching it to consider it protecting the environment, when the EIA came back and said you have got to destroy some of the environment out there. It is stretching it to the limit,” he said.
“I believe protection of the environment would say if we are going to pay [for the EIA] out of this fund, we are not going to proceed with the dock.”
Opposition leader McKeeva Bush also opposed the appropriations from the fund being used for assessments on the dock and on the landfill site. He said too much money had been spent on the environmental impact assessment. In total, $4.2 million was allocated for the EIA and legal and consulting costs associated with the port project.
Mr. Bush said he could not support the current port project, given the extent of the damage outlined in the report, suggesting building the jetty at the Cayman Turtle Farm, redeveloping Spotts Dock and enhancing the tender fleet as an interim alternative.
“I do believe that cruise piers can be built in George Town that will suffice for the needs of our people who are in the business and the growing demands of the cruise ship companies, without the tremendous destruction that is outlined in the study,” he said.
Both Mr. Bush and Mr. McLean said government had made no mention of the fact that the Environmental Protection Fund would be used for either the port project or the landfill assessment when those appropriations were agreed earlier in the Finance Committee debate on the budget.
Premier Alden McLaughlin accused Mr. McLean of playing politics to “hammer the government over some imagined procedural error.”
He said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had approved the appropriations from the fund.
Finance Minister Marco Archer said the environmental impact assessment helped highlight risks and mitigating factors in the port project and was therefore an appropriate use of the fund.
Mr. McLean added, “I am no environmentalist, you will not find me hugging up any tree in this country.
“I can’t in good conscience support anything to do with that dock out there coming from this fund.”
Mr. McLean and Mr. Bush were the only dissenting voices as the motion to approve $5.1 million expenditure from the fund was approved with the assent of ten legislators and five others absent from the Chamber.
The funds allocated included $2.5 million for the port EIA, $1 million for the Integrated Solid Waste Management project, $180,000 for a new boat for the Department of Environment, $1.5 million for Department of Environment projects, including studies to protect blue iguanas and control the population of green iguanas.
“These are all environmental related issues and government has concluded they are quite appropriate for use of Environmental Protection Fund funding,” said Premier McLaughlin.