Consultants: Alternate cruise port sites worse than GT

Consultants say there would be 20 times more environmental damage as a result of the dredging required if cruise piers were built in South Sound or West Bay instead of George Town harbor. 

Environmental engineers say they were not asked to look at other sites, with government committed to the capital. But their outline analysis of previous proposals in Red Bay off South Sound Road and Barkers in West Bay suggests the George Town site is more environmentally friendly. 

In response to public concerns that other sites should have been considered, raised during a consultation exercise on the environmental impact assessment on the port, consultants Baird and Associates suggest George Town has numerous advantages. 

These include: 

The natural environment is already compromised by years of shipping and port activities 

Significantly greater dredging, with associated environmental impacts, required at other sites 

Capital cost of facility will be significantly lower in George Town 

Proximity to George Town business district. The consultants note, “The dredging volumes associated with the development of a similar facility at the Barkers or Red Bay sites would be at least 20 times larger. The much larger volumes at these other sites are due to the shallower water depths and the requirement for a dredged access channel and turning basin.” 

Consultants respond to other concerns 

In a point-by-point response to submissions from the public in a consultation exercise, the consultants also attempted to address the main concerns raised. 

These are some of the key questions and responses. 

Was the impact on Cayman’s reputation as a dive destination properly considered? 

Many responses expressed concern about the damage to coral reefs in George Town harbor, pointing out that the development site was in a marine park. Several people suggested the project would do “irreparable damage” to Cayman’s premier attraction, its coral reefs, as well as its reputation as a dive destination. 

The consultants responded that their report had acknowledged the critical importance of coral reefs. They point out their role was to highlight the potential socioeconomic and environmental impacts and that government would be responsible for deciding whether or not to go ahead with the project. 

Was the economic value of the reefs in George Town accurate? 

Some responses argued that the value of the marine resources in the harbor had been underestimated, suggesting dive sites such as Eden Rock and the wreck of the Balboa were “irreplaceable.” 

Others argued the opposite, suggesting that economic losses to water sports businesses in George Town would be offset by tourists using plentiful marine resources elsewhere on the island. The consultants said the estimate of a loss of $100 million to $165 million over 20 years to water sports businesses in the harbor was based on current spending rates. They note this did not factor in the trickle-down effect of that spending or the diversion of those tourist dollars elsewhere if the piers are built. 

They suggest the completed outline business case, being produced by PwC, should take a more detailed look at these financial considerations. 

Will the project really impact 15 acres of coral? 

Several people questioned the conclusion in the report that 15 acres of coral habitat would be impacted by the development. The consultants clarified that this also includes the surrounding habitat. 

“Approximately 15 acres of ‘coral reef habitat’ will be directly impacted by the project. This area includes hard pan and sandy bottom areas located amongst and between the reef features, as these areas are part of the functional ecosystem within the project footprint.” 

Did the EIA adequately consider mitigation measures? 

Some respondents suggested the EIA showed a worst-case scenario without considering mitigation measures. The consultants countered that the report concluded an in-depth analysis of the possible mitigation measures and their likely impact. 

“The EIA study identified a range in possible mitigation measures that could be employed to reduce or eliminate adverse impacts on coral reefs in GTH [George Town harbor],” the consultants said. 

Was the potential for ship thrusters to spread sediment to neighboring reefs overestimated? 

The model simulations on the likely impact of a ship’s thrusters in kicking up sediment – referred to as sediment resuspension – was questioned during the consultation exercise. 

The consultants acknowledged that upon further investigation and discussion with ship captains, the models had miscalculated the time the thrusters would be running. New models, based on a significantly reduced time frame, were calculated. 

“Turbidity plumes in these simulations are significantly less severe than those presented in the Environmental Statement and shown at the public meeting, due to the reduction in the duration of applied power in the model from 15 minutes to 1 minute,” the consultants said in their response. 

Is coral relocation really feasible or affordable? 

Several comments expressed concern that relocating coral reef and wrecks impacted by the pier build, as proposed by the consultants, was likely to be expensive, with no guarantee of success, and may not even be feasible. 

The consultants wrote that it would be a feasible mitigation measure, but acknowledge it will not fully replace lost habitat and agree that success is not guaranteed. 

Coral relocation has been undertaken at numerous locations around the Caribbean and elsewhere, they note. 

“It is generally a very complex, time-consuming and extensive process,” they noted. Expense is variable, but Baird has previously said it would cost a minimum of $13 million. 

Will the project really have no impact on Seven Mile Beach? 

Considerable skepticism was expressed in the public comments over the consultants’ conclusion that there would be no impact on Seven Mile Beach. 

Baird, in its response, stated that a comprehensive review of the impact on Seven Mile Beach was undertaken, including analyses of a historical database of beach survey data. The study found the primary source of sand for Seven Mile Beach to be the north coast of Grand Cayman, and noted that a prominent headland at the south end of the beach provides an effective natural barrier to sand transport from George Town harbor. 

The findings are backed up by an earlier Department of Environment study, Baird wrote. 

Red Bay in South Sound has been discussed as a possible alternative site for a cruise dock. PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER
Red Bay in South Sound has been discussed as a possible alternative site for a cruise dock. PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER