Facing pressure from pro-cruise port campaigners, government has released a draft of a management plan aimed at reducing environmental damage during the construction phase of the controversial project.
Environment Minister Wayne Panton said the document contained no “magic solutions” to the threats identified in an environmental impact assessment.
He said it was a draft plan that would have to be reviewed and finalized if government decided to proceed with the proposed project to build two cruise ship piers in George Town harbor.
It was not part of the public consultation process and was not originally intended for public release at this stage, he added.
The document was posted on the Department of Environment’s website on Friday afternoon. Mr. Panton said he hoped its release would put an end to suggestions that something significant was being hidden or omitted.
“People seem to be suggesting some kind of agenda to sway public opinion, which is absolutely not the case,” he said.
“There is really nothing new in it, but to put an end to those allegations, I asked the Department of Environment to put it on the website.”
Questions were first raised over why the environmental management plan was not made public by campaign group Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future, which is advocating for the cruise piers to be built in George Town.
In an article, published as part of a special Cayman Compass report, the group highlighted the fact that the plan was missing from the publicly released environmental statement, despite being included as a chapter heading in the table of contents.
The chapter, titled “Environmental Management Plan,” is left blank in the published report.
The article suggests the omission has created a public information vacuum on the engineering measures and policies that could be used to mitigate environmental damage. It suggests this has led to “lopsided reactions” based on fears over a worst-case scenario.
Tim Adam, managing director at Cayman Turtle Farm and one of the co-writers of the article, said he was pleased that the document had now been released and was looking forward to reviewing the information.
He said many of the threats to the environment could be managed and reduced by use of technology and sensible management during the construction phase.
He acknowledged that information about mitigation measures had been included in the original document release, but said there was no good reason for the full management plan to be withheld.
“This consolidates some of the mitigation measures that can be used into one document,” he said.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said the environmental management plan, once finalized, would be a technical, working document that would guide the contractor on the technologies and policies that must be deployed during construction to protect the environment.
She questioned the value of publicly releasing it at this point, saying it had not yet been reviewed by the government and the final plan could vary considerably from the draft.
“The mitigation measures that can be used are already in the environmental impact statement and the technical appendices,” she said.
“The environmental management plan was not included at this point because it is a draft document. It is a technical document that will be included in the design-build RFP documentation and will have to be based on the final design choice as well as which of the mitigation measures government decides can be employed,” she said.
The document, produced by consultants Baird, outlines its remit to provide “specific environmental monitoring requirements and management protocols for the construction phase.”
It discusses the possible use of “silt curtains” to control sediment movement during dredging – one of the greatest threats to coral at nearby dive sites.
It also proposes constant monitoring of sediment levels and limiting dredging at certain times of year to help protect coral.
A possible coral relocation project is also included in the plan.
Dave Anglin, senior coastal engineer and principal with Baird, said there was no way to completely eliminate the adverse impacts of the project.
“While the mitigation measures will reduce adverse impacts on coral reefs in the harbor, the reduction can not be accurately quantified in advance,” he said.
Mr. Anglin said the key objective of the environmental management plan was to set out the mitigation measures to be employed during construction and to establish monitoring and compliance regimes.
“The draft plan for the proposed cruise berthing facility incorporates various mitigation measures that could be employed for this project,” he said.
He said all mitigation measures included in the draft plan were discussed in detail in the environmental statement, which included an analysis of the benefits of each and the likely “residual impact” that would still occur after mitigation.
Mr. Anglin added, “Measures proposed to reduce adverse impacts on coral reefs in George Town harbor include the use of turbidity barriers, real-time monitoring of turbidity and adaptive management of dredging and construction operations.
“Specific details associated with the implementation of these measures, as well as their efficacy in reducing adverse impacts, cannot be defined or quantified in advance, as they are dependent upon factors such as the dredging methodology adopted by contractor, prevailing weather conditions at the time of dredging and uncertainty regarding the response of various coral species to elevated turbidity and sedimentation levels.”