A novel new concept to use cable cars to bring cruise passengers into George Town has been put forward as an eleventh hour solution for the port project.
The design would involve two dock platforms close to the reef line, where the ships drop anchor.
Passengers would be transported from the dock into Grand Cayman using cable cars suspended from two towers, envisaged as an iconic architectural feature of the new port.
James Eldon Whittaker Jr., CEO of Next Development and the GreenTech group, presented the plans to government officials and members of rival campaign groups Save Cayman and Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future earlier this month.
He believes the concept of a Cayman SkyBridge is the ideal solution to preserve the reefs and provide a solution for cruise berthing in Cayman.
He said the cable car system would involve four overhead lines from each terminal and use cars that could transport 15 passengers at a time, with an estimated journey time of three minutes. The system would use 43 cars on each line and be able to move 20,000 passengers per hour, he said.
Mr. Whittaker said the design is based on proven technology used on a larger scale elsewhere in the world, most notably over London’s Thames river.
He said it was much faster than tendering and would also bring extra value as a unique and exciting feature of Cayman’s cruise port.
“I don’t think there is a better alternative,” he said. “The traditional port is going to cause significant environmental damage, and not having a dock is also going to be a problem.
“I am a practical person and I want to see the country get a pier, but I don’t want to see the environment destroyed to do it.”
He said his firm partnered with engineers from around the world and invested its own money to produce the designs.
He said the idea had been in the works for several years, but he was waiting for the environmental impact assessment to conclude before putting the plans in the public domain.
He believes the dock and cable car system could be put in place for around $170 million – likely cheaper than the traditional port concept once the cost of environmental mitigation measures are factored in.
The current design includes two towers, in the shape of a sail, with an underwater observatory to take people beneath the waves as an additional attraction.
“What we want is for those towers to be an iconic architectural feature that people associate immediately with Cayman,” he added.
Mr. Whittaker said the cable cars and underwater viewing area, next to the Balboa shipwreck, could become attractions themselves. He believes some of the operational costs could be offset by running evening tours and selling naming rights to the cable car system.
The plans involve building two terminals on the sandy bottom between the shallow reef and the reef wall, with cantilevered piers stretching out into the deep water beyond the wall. He said the platforms would be affixed to the sea bed in less than 70 feet of water.
Some land reclamation would be required for the land-side facilities, but the bulk of the dredging – the main sticking point for opponents to the traditional pier concept – would no longer be required.
Doppelmayr Garaventa, the engineers responsible for the London cable car system known as the Emirates Air Line, have been involved in the design process.
Mr. Whittaker added. “This idea has never been done in the Caribbean, but this is not an experimental technology by any means. These sky transit systems have been used the world over and in similar applications and in much larger and more complex scale.
“The team involved has built these types of systems all over the world, including the Emirates Air Line in London, which is actually much larger and more complex than what we are proposing for Cayman.”
He said the cars could be housed inside the terminals during hurricanes, and the lines and towers would be engineered to withstand storm winds and high seas. The design would use renewable energy technology, he added.
James Whittaker, the CEO of Next Development, and James Whittaker, the writer of this article, are not related.