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.
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.