A new “public information” group has been formed by supporters of a new cruise dock for George Town in an effort to counter a growing campaign against the $150 million project.
Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future, issued a full-page newspaper advertisement Wednesday dismissing some of the opposition to the port as “inaccurate, unsubstantiated scaremongering” and highlighting some of the benefits of a new port for Cayman.
Chris Kirkconnell, of Kirk Freeport, said the organization was a consortium of concerned businessmen and individuals who wanted to ensure the public had access to accurate information about the impacts of the port project.
He said it was supported by the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism, which includes representatives from businesses like Kirk Freeport, Tortuga Rum Company and Island Companies, but also involved smaller businesses, tour operators, taxi drivers and individuals who supported improved cruise and cargo facilities for Cayman but currently had no platform to have their voices heard.
The group appears to have evolved in the face of increasingly organized opposition to the port. A petition circulated by photographer Courtney Platt has gathered more than 2,000 signatures urging government to abandon the dock plan. A new group, called Save Cayman, formed last week with the aim of starting a public awareness and advertising campaign to gather support for a people’s referendum to stop the dock.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the aim of the Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future campaign was to give a voice to those who support a dock and ensure the public had access to all the facts.
“It is something that came out of concerns from the community to try to make sure the real information gets out there and that the most reasonable possibilities are discussed.
“If you asked any of the environmental fundamentalists what percentage of natural resources they would be willing to give up for economic development, the answer would be zero percent. There are people that feel we should never touch nature but there has to be some balance between environmental concerns and the economic and social future of the country.”
Mr. Kirkconnell believes that, without a cruise dock, tourism would dwindle to the point where jobs were affected across the industry, from retail business and restaurants to taxi operators and water-based businesses.
He believes the current port plan offers a compromise position that would cause the least possible environmental impact of any of the plans put forward in the last decade.
Engineering consultants Baird made similar comments in a public meeting last month. Dave Anglin, of Baird, said the plan involved less dredging than any other site suggested for a cruise dock in Cayman.
Mr. Kirkconnell believes environmental campaigners have exaggerated the impacts on the marine environment by highlighting potential damage to iconic dive sites like Eden Rock and Soto’s Reef.
He said the report highlighted impacts to those sites in a “worst case scenario” but also indicated mitigation measures, including turbidity barriers, could substantially reduce that impact.
He acknowledged that the environmental impact assessment had indicated building a port would have a negative economic impact, primarily on water sports businesses in the capital. But he said the report also indicated that action, for example, moving the historic wreck of the Balboa to another site, could be taken to offset that impact and create new attractions and opportunities elsewhere.
He also questioned the much quoted figure that 15 acres of coral reef would be damaged, pointing out the report actually refers to 15 acres of coral and “associated marine habitat” rather than 15 acres of live coral.
He also points to the fact that the new pier offers a longer term solution for Cayman’s cargo facilities as something that has been overlooked.
He said the port project on the table offered a solution to the future of cruise tourism and cargo operations in Cayman that would protect the island’s economy with the least possible environmental impact.
“The report is over 1,000 pages long and not everyone is going to go through this report and we want to make sure correct information is available to everyone.
“One of the shortfalls of the environmental petition is they are just saying ‘no dock,’ they are not saying what can be done to mitigate the impacts. That is not a realistic approach because there has to be a balance between all the different factors. We want to work with everyone to make sure it is done the right way.”