Conservation Council criticizes port plan

The National Conservation Council has criticized the cruise berthing proposal for George Town harbor, citing concerns with the economic costs and environmental damage. 

The cruise port proposal calls for berthing facilities large enough to handle the Oasis-class passenger ships that currently cannot stop in Cayman, but the new dock would require moving or destroying parts of the reefs off the George Town waterfront. 

The council was formed late last year under the 2013 National Conservation Law, which stipulates that every government entity except Cabinet shall “consult with the Council and take into account any views of the Council before taking any action” it feels “would or would be likely to have an adverse effect on the environment generally or on any natural resource.” 

In their statement released Thursday, Council members expressed major concerns in two areas. “The economic costs associated with unavoidable environmental damage may exceed the long-term economic benefits that can be reasonably expected from the proposed port development,” they wrote. 

“The Council is further concerned that the damage may forever downgrade the integrity of our attractive and historic harbour.” 

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Council members, analyzing the environmental impact report from consultants W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers Ltd., wrote that the economic benefit estimates are speculative and difficult to predict with certainty. 

“On the other hand,” they noted, “the significant environmental and economic costs are clearer and generally quantifiable.” 

Highlighting damage to the reefs around the proposed facility, the council statement says, “The proposed mitigation measures are all of limited effectiveness, and significant environmental damage from the proposed project will be irreversible. We emphasize that short and long-term environmental degradation in this area will cause both direct and indirect economic damage that should not be ignored or underestimated.” 

The consultants on the government-funded environmental study said in their report that the coral and other features off the waterfront bring in an estimated US$19 million to US$22 million a year in economic value to the Cayman Islands. 

The environmental report, released in June, states, “Project construction and operation will result in damage to the marine ecosystem within George Town harbor, with associated adverse impacts on the goods and services provided by the marine ecosystem. Revenues generated by water sports businesses, which rely on tourism and recreation opportunities provided by the marine resources within George Town harbor, will also be adversely affected.” 

The environmental assessment points to a coral relocation project and tightly controlled dredging in the harbor to protect corals at Eden Rock, Hamburger Reef and the surrounding area. But Conservation Council members doubted the proposals, saying the consultants did not consider all the risks of dredging. 

On moving corals from the waters off central George Town, the council’s commentary indicated that the potential for additional income from cruise passengers may not cover the high costs of moving sections of the reef. The environmental statement gives a wide estimate of US$10 million to US$73 million for the coral relocation proposal. 

Economic considerations aside, the council wrote, “There is doubt as to the long-term success of any coral relocation measures.” 

This illustration shows the proposed cruise berthing facility in George Town.

This illustration shows the proposed cruise berthing facility in George Town.
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  1. The Conservation Council is correct with their assessment of the damages to the environment in the harbor, but failed to mention what would happen to the corals/environment south of the harbor down to Sunset House and beyond during a northwester/hurricane with the silt that would be caused from the dredging in George town harbor. I think that it’s going to be too expensive to move corals, and growing corals too. The corals that are at stakes here has taken 100s of years to grow natural to size of what they are today that makes the formation attractive and beautiful. I say that we should leave good enough alone, and be satisfied with half a loaf than none.

  2. I would like to offer these videos on Youtube done by the environmentalists and scientist Tim Austin from the D.O.E.
    We need to understand ,that if the reefs die WHAT ELSE CAN WE OFFER FOR tourism if we have no docks? The climate is changing this year has been very hot. What will we offer for tourists to come to Grand Cayman. Most of the reefs are offshore snorkeling or diving that are being offered free.

  3. If one takes a quick search to google you find out in very fast that several of the NCC members are on the EAB.

    Does it really sound like a far stretch that having the head of DOE on all three would lead to three identical findings?

    There is a reason Compass makes to log in to comment, that’s so there is one voice per person. Giving the same comment from three "separate" voices means nothing if it really is coming from the same place.

    The penmanship of this release reads eerily similar to that of the EAB. Considering authors may be one and the same would not be such a stretch.

    The wide range of coral relocation costs mentioned only goes to strengthen the need for the second consultants to actually measure the coral that is in the harbour.

    In the EIA and comments to public questions released by the DOE:

    4.2 "The marine ecology assessment undertaken for the EIA was not designed to define the objectives/scope/cost of a coral relocation program, nor the location of a suitable recipient site. ADDITIONAL investigations are required to do so, as discussed in ES Section 16.6.2 and appendix J1"

    "The actual cost of the coral relocation program will be dependent upon the objectives and scope of the program, which have not been defined at this time"

    "The project cost estimate of CI$ 156M includes a $9M allowance for coral and wreck relocation (note: both numbers include a 27% contingency allowance"

    Viewing this opinion of the consultants, it is fairly irresponsible of the EAB and NCC to make their own assumptions on costing and especially to assign the $73M price tag in their release.

  4. The Proposed Cruise Berthing Facility is the first proposal to include much needed upgrades to the Cargo Dock.
    • The current proposal allows three cargo ships to operate at the same time
    • Larger cargo ships will be able to service Cayman
    • This saves Cayman from having to spend government funds to build a cargo dock in a completely new location.
    • It also takes away the environmental impact of dredging a new location in the future for cargo
    The Cruise Berthing Facility is not a threat to 7 Mile Beach (EIA Non-Technical Summary Page 19 and Response to Public Comments Page 15)
    • The EIA states that the current Cruise Berthing proposal will not pose a significant threat to 7 Mile Beach. The consultants further repeat this in their response to public comments which can be found on the DOE website.
    • A study commissioned by the DOE with Dr. Richard Seymour explains how 7 Mile Beach is formed.

    The Cruise Berthing Facility will not increase wave action or Flooding in George Town (EIA Non Technical Summary Page 18)
    • The EIA report shows that no increase in flooding and no increase in wave action in George Town will occur
    • The land reclamation area includes a flood/wave wall to reduce the impact during storms.
    The piers in the Cruise Berthing Facility are built on Piles and allow water to flow freely underneath.
    The effects on nearby coral reefs during operation has been reduced
    • The consultants have acknowledged that their models during the operation of the port were incorrect and have reduced the use of bow thrusters from 15 minutes to 1 minute, showing a 1500% reduction in the bow thruster plume.
    • “Turbidity plumes in these simulations are significantly less sever than those presented in the ES 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”
    • Ships can be made to dock bow in only to keep the powerful main engines in deep water and prevent them from disturbing the sea bed.
    The effects on nearby coral reefs can be reduced during the dredging by employing the following:
    • Use of Silt screens and double silt screens if needed
    • Use of air curtains as a secondary or tertiary barrier to silt
    • Use of bucket covers on the dredge to prevent spillage
    • Following the Environmental Management Plan to monitor the nearby reefs and to set tolerances and thresholds
    • Altering the productivity of the dredge to reduce siltation/turbidity
    Building the proposed Cruise Berthing Facility will not take funds away from other important infrastructure projects.
    George Town is the best location for the Cruise Berthing Facility, the consultants clarified:
    • Natural environment (in GT) already compromised by years of shipping and port activities
    • Significantly greater dredging (at least 20 times) and environmental impacts at other sites (Red Bay and North Sound)
    • Capital cost of facility will be significantly lower in GT
    • Proximity to George Town business district