Opponents seek referendum on GT cruise pier


A coalition of Cayman Islands voters will seek to force the local government to abandon plans for a cruise pier in George Town harbor via a people-initiated referendum. 

The group “Save Cayman” last week started asking registered voters in the Cayman Islands to sign a petition which, if it receives enough signatures and is presented to the governor, would require government to hold a public vote on the issue. 

“Will we get the signatures? I don’t know,” said Keith Sahm, the general manager of Sunset House, who is helping to organize the petition. “Can we raise awareness … about what’s beneath the water? Yes.” 

The participation in the people-initiated referendum would need to be quite high in order for it to have any legal effect. First, 25 percent of the registered voters in Cayman – more than 4,600 people – would have to sign the document and have their participation verified. If it moves to a public referendum, a simple majority of all registered voters would have to approve the referendum question – more than 9,200 people. 

Mr. Sahm said, in the coming weeks, referendum proponents would mount an advertising campaign in the Cayman Compass and on local radio stations in opposition to the cruise pier. 

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The website www.savecayman.org has published the entire environmental impact assessment report that was issued on the cruise berthing project the first week in June and touches on what it considers some of the document’s low-lights. 

“[The assessment] revealed that several acres and hundreds of thousands of square footage of reef will be completely destroyed as a result of the cruise berthing facility that government is proposing to build as a means of improving cruise tourism,” the Save Cayman statement read. “The report also made it clear the project will have significant negative impacts on the marine ecology within the George Town Harbor areas.” 

The petition is being circulated separately from one started earlier this month by local photographer Courtney Platt, which had gathered more than 2,200 signatures by Monday morning. That petition allows anyone to weigh in on the subject, regardless of citizenship status in Cayman. 

Mr. Platt said earlier this month that it would be a “fiasco” if government went ahead with the cruise pier given the level of destruction outlined in the report. 

The environmental impact assessment released earlier this month with little government fanfare indicated that coral reef areas that could be damaged by the cruise pier construction should be “relocated.” 

Moving the reefs – if it were feasible – could add another $13 million to the cost of the project, the assessment estimated. 

The Balboa shipwreck will be lost and neighboring reefs, including the spectacular Devil’s Grotto caverns off Eden Rock, a magnet for divers and underwater photographers, as well as the wreck of the Cali, will be impacted by “lethal and sub-lethal sedimentation levels” caused by dredging the harbor, the report stated. 

The total damage to marine resources would cost Cayman between $100 million and $165 million over 20 years, principally from tourist spending on recreation and water sports activities in the harbor, the report estimates. In return, it is estimated the piers would bring nearly 1,000 jobs and inject $250 million into the Cayman Islands economy over 20 years through increased cruise tourism. 

Local businessman and Chamber of Commerce Council member Johann Moxam said Sunday that there’s simply to not enough objective information available at this point to make the call on whether the environmental destruction required to build the new pier is justified by the economic development. Mr. Moxam clarified that his statement was being made on his own behalf and that the Chamber itself had not taken a position on the cruise pier construction. 

“Are the costs – economic, environmental and social costs – worth the benefits?” Mr. Moxam asked in a lengthy statement sent to the Cayman Compass. “Has the Government studied and measured the benefits? Or are we content with the unproven, back of envelope ‘guesstimates’ about the economic benefits of cruise tourism and private discussions with a select few who are possibly conflicted and have a pecuniary interest to protect in the outcome? 

“To be clear, I support the need for some level of cruise berthing. However, has any consideration been given to upgrading the current tendering fleet and process prior to moving forward with this proposal that will easily exceed CI$300 million?” 

The government has not taken a position on whether it will move forward with the current plan for cruise berthing in George Town Harbor. It approved funding for the cruise pier assessment through the government’s Environmental Protection Fund.  


The proposed cruise ship pier would cater to tourists disembarking in the George Town harbor. – Photo: Chris COurt
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  1. I say again. It needs to be stopped. How can you possibly put a monetary value on the reefs in that area? Yes you can say lost revenue and generated revenue but those reefs are priceless. Never again will you see that habitat regenerate. Those are thousands of years worth of coral growth, long before any human was anywhere near this side of the planet those reefs were forming. How can you say they can be moved? I was upset about the anchor damage but that was a small fraction of a reef that they are completely planning to destroy. The area used for an anchorage now is already completely trashed just leave it as it is. What sense was it for all of those volunteers to spend hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars trying to repair that reef when the whole area will be wiped out with just one construction project? I personally don’t see how that is called progress. Look at the damage in Jamaica. Look at the damage caused at all of the other locations where cruise piers have been built. Is it really worth it? People come here because we are different. I know plenty that aren’t ever coming back because of the destruction already caused by development and I know plenty more that won’t come back once that dock is in place. They will simply look for somewhere else to go. I’m not just saying this to sound good I am saying this because I have worked in the tourism industry for 20 years and I’ve heard these people say that they are not coming back. Focus on the airport. Develop that to handle bigger planes and more people and that is where you will see the biggest return for money on this island. Because when the seas are rough and the ships pass by, the flights are still landing at Owen Roberts International airport bringing people who will spend thousand of dollars while here, not less than $100. I see that per person spending going down even because if it is so easy to get back to the ship and get lunch for free. Do you really think they will spend any money at the restaurants in town?

  2. Everyone needs to go and read more of the EIA so they fully understand what is going on. There is a lot of misrepresentation of the truth out there. The EIA clearly states:

    "The deployment of turbidity barriers was not simulated, but the low-productivity rate would be representative of the deployment of turbidity barriers for a high-productivity scenario."

    Right after that it states:
    "The BHD low-productivity (or deployed turbidity barrier) operation generates a 24-hour maximum plume of high impacts that extends to an approximately 490ft (150m) radius of the dredge options. The plume also reaches slightly further at the seabed compared to the surface."

    490 ft is hardly the vast devastation or "fiasco" that Mr. Platt and others would have you believe. In fact the 490ft barely even leaves the actual dock area.

    The "huge destruction" visual that he has campaigned on clearly states in the EIA that it is only representative of maximum dredging operations going on for 90 days with 3 dredges simultaneously and NO turbiditiy barriers (silt screens). Silt Screens are common practice in all dredge operations, and even more so in a sensitive scenario.
    There is not even a slight possibility that dredging would occur in GT Harbour without basic turbidity barriers so his representation is not even a possible scenario.

    Further in the EIA "These simulations do not include the containing effects of turbidity barriers, which can be effective in containing sediment plumes"

    If you want to use the information in the EIA you have to accept all of it. Stop the scare tactics. Tell the truth.

  3. Just read an article "Terrorists target cruise ships — here’s what you need to know now". One incident can bring the whole cruise industry to a halt. Just saying.
    As for the referendum….. my mind refuses to engage into anything anymore when it comes to how this country operates.

  4. Fear has allowed to enter into this discussion. Fear that the end of the coral reefs will come, and god himself will smite your first born. Common sense must prevail. Environmentalist nazis intentions is to have the public think that all is lost with the introduction of cruise piers. Cayman needs it, or in short order you will fear "NO CRUISE TOURISM".
    George Town is already looking like a ghost town.