The negative impact of the three-year construction period estimated for the proposed cruise berthing facility in George Town harbor should not be underestimated, according to a new review from the Environmental Assessment Board.
The review highlights the economic impact on retailers and restaurants during the construction phase in a summary of some of the key concerns arising from recent studies on the port project.
The board, including staff from the Department of Environment, National Roads Authority, Planning Department and Department of Tourism, on Monday released its official review of the environmental impact assessment carried out by consultants Baird and Associates.
The board highlights government’s “legal requirement” to consider the findings of the assessment as it decides whether to proceed with the project.
Among a number of conclusions and recommendations, it comments, “Given that the construction works will take up to three years to complete, the Environmental Assessment Board believes that the potential negative economic effect of the visual amenity impacts of the construction activity, on both cruise and stay-over visitors, should not be underestimated.”
The review, essentially a summary of the environmental statement and technical appendices intended to aid Cabinet in the decision-making process, concludes, “There are a number of major negative impacts associated with this project, both in the construction and operational phases.
“Furthermore, many of these impacts, even with the application of recommended mitigation measures, still result in significantly negative residual impacts, which in some instances are permanent and irreversible.”
It highlights the need for the final outline business case on the project to factor in economic losses connected to the loss of reef and water clarity in the harbor.
It also recommends that decisions be taken on what mitigation measures would be deployed if the project proceeds, in order to get an accurate total cost estimate for the project.
The review recaps the key findings of the environmental impact assessment, including the “irreversible removal of approximately 15 acres of coral reef habitat” and adverse impacts on adjacent reefs.
It highlights additional concerns that sedimentation impacts of the project could be an “ecological tipping point” for the reef system in George Town harbor.
“These chronic impacts may cause the entire George Town harbor reef system to rapidly deteriorate, resulting in high levels of mortality of coral and other marine species,” it notes.
The review reinforces that the project needs to be combined with improvements to the road network.
“If the project advances, it must do so with the infrastructural support of the National Roads Authority’s ‘List of Priority Road Network Improvements’ and implementation of aspects of the George Town Revitalisation Plan which were shown to substantially mitigate key issues associated with the growth in traffic expected regardless of whether or not the cruise berthing facility is implemented.”
Environmental Assessment Boards are convened for the purpose of overseeing environmental impact assessments on specific projects and providing technical input from relevant government agencies to the consultants. Membership varies depending on the project.
The Environmental Assessment Board for the port project included Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment; Rosa Harris, director of tourism; Haroon Pandohie, director of planning; Denis Thibeault, assistant director of the NRA; Peggy Leshikar-Denton, director of the Cayman Islands National Museum; James Parsons, acting director of the Port Authority; and Clement Reid, assistant director of the Port Authority.