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.”
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.”