Department of Environment director speaks out on cruise port project

Mitigation expensive and likely ineffective, warns DoE director

The environmental consequences of proceeding with the cruise berthing project will still be “extremely dire” even if mitigation measures are deployed, the director of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment has warned. 

Gina Ebanks-Petrie cautioned that too much emphasis was being put on the potential for mitigation options to reduce the damage to coral reef habitat as outlined in an environmental impact assessment. 

“The pro-port side seems to take comfort from these mitigation options, but what is being missed, or glossed over, is that the environmental study also assesses the effect of those measures and the consultants judge that they will have little or no effect on reducing the severity of the impacts,” she said. 

She warned that the measures proposed, including the use of silt screens and the relocation of some coral reefs, would come with a “significant price tag” and would not make a substantial difference, according to the consultant’s report. 

“The public and decision makers need to remember that ‘mitigation’ of an impact does not equal complete removal of the impact, and they should focus on the severity of the predicted residual impact,” she said. 

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Her comments, in an interview with a public relations company working on behalf of the Save Cayman anti-port campaign group, immediately drew criticism from pro-port advocates. 

Chris Kirkconnell, one of the key figures in the Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future campaign group, said it was inappropriate for Ms. Ebanks-Petrie, as a public servant, to make comments through a firm hired or organized by a private lobby group. 

He said she had been involved with the entire process as chair of the Environmental Assessment Board and a member of the National Conservation Council and had plenty of opportunity to comment through those forums. He suggested the director had shown a lack of objectivity in the press release and in relation to the port project in general. 

Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said she had simply responded to an interview request. She confirmed she was quoted accurately in the release and said she, and the Department of Environment, had been open and transparent throughout the whole process. 

“Part of my job is to advocate for the protection of the environment. I am not making anything up, I’m speaking about the results of the environmental impact assessment,” she told the Compass. 

She said her concerns were directly focused on the findings of the environmental impact assessment in relation to the removal of reefs and the residual impact of the project on adjacent reefs and water quality in the harbor. 

“I am, and remain, extremely concerned that certain groups appear to be latching on to the idea of mitigation as if somehow that will mean there is not going to be a significant impact from this project,” she said. 

She added that she was concerned that the findings of the report itself risked being lost amid the commentary of rival campaign groups. 

She said the consultant’s scoring system, in the environmental impact assessment, showed serious residual impacts would remain, even after costly mitigation measurers were put in place. 

“For example, the consultants score the impact of dredging on water quality in George Town harbor as a Significant Negative Impact (-D) and this remains a Significant Negative impact (-D) after the application of the recommended mitigation measure – the installation of silt curtains,” she said in the original press release. 

She added that the consultants classify the destruction of coral reef during dredging in the highest tier of negative impacts – a Major Negative Impact (-E). Following implementation of the recommended mitigation measure – the coral relocation program – it is still classified as a Significant Negative Impact (-D). 

“The resulting situation is still extremely dire, and this seems to be lost in the sound bites being heard in the news,” she said. 

She added that the Department of Environment was conscious of the contribution of cruise tourism to the economy and the need to improve the experience of visitors. 

“However, after careful consideration of the environmental losses and the risk to the overall tourism product associated with berthing facilities, our view is that a scheme of appropriate land side enhancements would offer the best solution.” 

Ms. Ebanks-Petrie told the public relations company that, given the projected cost of the project, it is critical that the predicted economic benefits of the berthing facility are based on real data and factual information and that the economic business case does not rely on assumptions, speculation and the opinions of those directly involved in the cruise tourism industry. 

She added, “From where I sit, the economic business case does not appear to have been held to the same standard of actual data collection and robust analysis and scrutiny as the environmental impact assessment. I see this as a significant problem for decision-makers.” 

Ms. Ebanks-Petrie

Ms. Ebanks-Petrie
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  1. This has been a vendetta from people who just don’t want any kind of new projects that may change Cayman for the better. Whether it is swampland or North sound or Red Bay or Half moon Bay . They will get someone to say whatever. We need a dock Gina, if GT, which has been through previous EIA’s before for 30 years then where? Common sense tells you we need jobs that pay fair wages.
    Maybe Gov’t should put in a law that forces companies to have 50% Caymanian workers in all tourist related businesses in Cayman islands?
    I have rebutted every question with videos on the website on FB. We still have people who ask a question without seeing the proof provided by Experts ,tourists and people who are scientists and engineers. We know the reefs are dying or Dead. Many people have proclaimed this argument throughout the world and especially in the caribbean. There are 365 dive sites around the island. If so they claim they don’t use them , give it back to the districts who fish there and close it from Diving. You can’t have it all.For years no one beside West bayers and Northsiders would use the North Sound . Since Ron Kipp they started coming and expanding. Because their TB licence has no restriction. Maybe its time to put in some restriction.
    GE did a 1 billion dollar recovery of the Hudson river. They took out PCB contamination using sealed clamshell grapplers. So that when they picked up the material nothing leaked out beside some water. The project took 2 years and had 100 pieces of equipment that could only be used during the winter. They were acclaimed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a tremendous success. Best in the history of the USA.Watch this video on you tube:
    Then watch cayman 27 with Tim Austin Scientist at DOE :
    The question that fails to be asked is , if our coral reef die what will we offer next?

  2. Quote – It is critical that the predicted economic benefits of the berthing facility are based on real data and factual information and that the economic business case does not rely on assumptions, speculation and the opinions of those directly involved in the cruise tourism industry.

    That is spot on and the one thing missing from this whole project is a viable business case. The concept of – if we build it they will come – may work for the little wooden bird boxes you put in your garden but to base a project of this magnitude on it is insane.

    So far there has not been one single positive response to the dock project from the cruise lines – that should set a few warning bells going.

    And the Compass is far from blameless here. Your job is to ask questions and get answers yet to date I have not seen one of your reporters make a direct approach to any of the major players in this game.

    How hard is it to pick up the phone and call the press office at Carnival or Royal Caribbean for a comment on whether or not the dock will change their future itineraries? While you are at it why not ask them what their plans might be during the disruption caused by the build? Are you afraid that the responses might not be what you and your advertisers want to hear?

  3. There are some who would prefer to save every living tree. Some who would prefer to see us remain in the backwaters of time.
    We paid over $2million dollars for professional scientists to investigate and give a learned and factual report on this vital infrastructure project.
    It’s time we move ahead!
    We need the Airport expansion.
    We also need the redevelopment/ expansion of our only commercial cargo port as well as a modern and forward looking Cruise Pier and facilities.
    The latter will save our only Capital city- George Town; from being relegated to a "forgotten town" within ten to fifteen years.

  4. Maybe its time to change out the DoE? Talk about a bunch of doomsday prophets. This is beyond ridiculous. We have other organizations that fear mongers the public into submission, and we call those *cults*..

    "Extremely dire" ? Because of a dock??

    “The public and decision makers need to remember that ‘mitigation’ of an impact does not equal complete removal of the impact, and they should focus on the severity of the predicted residual impact,” she said.

    Really? Name one single project that has "complete removal of the impact"… if "complete removal" as in 100% no environmental impact is the standard to develop anything, then we might as well all vacate Cayman Islands and force humans to live in aquarium somewhere. This is just silly talk…

    “From where I sit, the economic business case does not appear to have been held to the same standard of actual data collection and robust analysis and scrutiny as the environmental impact assessment…."

    This is absolute and utter rubbish. The EIA is basically a list of worst possible outcomes imaginable, its NOT falsifiable science…

    Where is the indisputable scientific factual data that shows the port will destroy the reefs with certainty, along with the ecosystem and marine life as we know it in Cayman???

    FYI: There is *already* a dock there! And guess what, when it was built, the reef survived, seven mile beach survived, and boats come and go daily at the port. The water is still crystal clear right under the docked boats, and crystal clear all the way up to the shoreline of the present man made dock. The silt didn’t destroy the environment then, why not??

    I can’t wait until the dock is built, so that when absolutely nothing happens to the environment besides having had to move of couple of rocks, I will come here and talk about these doomsday eco prophets every single day.

  5. Something seems extremely fishy when the head of DOE, the chairman of the EAB and member of the NCC decides that it is a good move to be featured in an article or press release that is being paid for by a lobby group.

    It makes it fairly clear that bias has been a heavy influence through this whole process.
    With what I see coming out in facebook I would hope that the compass is compiling FOI requests to see what the DOE and their director have been up to since she ran the whole EIA study.

    It does not seem like the DOE director considered the professionalism needed in such a sensitive situation. This puts her motive and objectivity into question and I think it would be fair of anyone to make the request that she not be involved with the port proposal going forward.

    Gina has done a lot of great things while in and running the DOE. It is a shame to see such lack of judgement on her part in what is one of the largest infrastructure projects proposed in Cayman’s history.

  6. If Cayman feels they can afford to miss out on the great advantages of cargo berths, up to date cruise ports and the much needed tourism, then sit on your front porches and wave bye bye to the cruise ships as they pass by us.

  7. First of all these people going around talking about anyone against this is fear mongering I ask you this. Who are the ones going around talking about the economy crashing and ships leaving and all the other rubbish I’ve heard come out of your mouths? Its all you same ones who are going around saying that anyone against it is scare mongering. Who is really doing the scare mongering? If this is the only thing you can keep repeating over and over its getting really old. Go sit down and be quiet if that is the smartest thing you can come up with. You have no other argument so leave it be.

    Gina is more than qualified to speak out against this. So are the other people who are against this and I can only see people who have knowledge and good sense that are speaking out against it. You need to listen to these people that arent being blinded by money they are actually using common sense. Something that seems to be in short supply in the other camp. Even the cruise lines are not pushing it. As a matter of fact I was speaking to one of the crew from a high end ship the other day. Now these are the cruise ship tourists who come and actually spend some money here and it seems that the general consensus on that ship is that if this port is built and the area is destroyed they don’t want to come here any more. So that rite there is a red flag. How many others wont come if this goes through? Yes people will come but the quality will be gone. Yes we have other dive sites but how many of them have time to go to other parts of the island to dive? Its not the DOE that needs to change out. Its the government itself that needs to be changed. These same ones who all they have on their mind is to make a name for themselves and they are the same ones hindering anything the DOE has tried to do. If DOE had the proper backing from the start they would have had allot of good things in place. But its kind of hard to fight when your hands are tied, especially when they are tied by the very people who you need to support you. This government is making a name for itself yes, they are making that name at a cost to this island as proven in other projects they started that are just sitting around going to waste. Or has everyone forgotten about that chapter already? Open your eyes people. The only scare mongering going on is coming from the same ones pointing fingers and they seem to be doing a good job of it too. But again that’s getting really old quick and if they cant find a better argument then you need to go do some research and see where they are going wrong.

  8. I have known Gina Ebanks-Petrie since Hurricane Ivan perhaps not as long as many of you but I have the greatest respect for her integrity and knowledge in the Department of Environment.

    Earlier today I read this article and considered offering up my support immediately but deferred not being a born Caymanian. After reading the comments offered including someone actually suggesting she ought to be replaced for her valuable opinion, I realized some balance needed to be offered.

    The DoE is not a revenue producing part of the government and needs to maintain a working relationship with the other departments to function smoothly. Blaming the DoE for the dump is unfair as there are no control vehicles to be applied to that problem.

    The pro pier lobby claim complete environmental awareness as to what this construction will do to the waters around George Town and 7 Mile Beach. This simply is not true. They believe they have all the information and enjoy complete knowledge of potential environmental pitfalls but this is not the case. No one can say with assurance what a bad Norwester will do or what the sand movement along 7 Mile Beach will be.

    It is important to not allow bullying tactics to sway the voicing of opinion on vital national projects thus my need to respond.

    Disagreement in local issues is often met with severe ridicule and disrespect and I would hope a higher level of discourse could be had on this important issue.

  9. @ Bob William I can assure you that the problems of the dump and recycling have been causing concern at DoE for years but the issues arising from them are down to DEH. Unless the responsibilities of those two departments cross there is very little DoE can do about the dump.

    What I will do here is repeat the point I made earlier and ask why not one of the pro-dock advocates who is posting on this page has addressed it – So far there has not been one single positive response to the dock project from the cruise lines. Come on, tell me why this is?

  10. David I would think government are the ones to answer that question. Anyone on the pro port side of the argument that deals with cruise lines has been told they support it and are interested in being involved with the port and as investors as well. Only the government ministers can tell you what the negotiations have been and which cruise lines they have spoken to. Personally I don”t feel this will be an issue. Government may be waiting to get through this phase, receive the completed business plan and then lock in cruise lines after that.

  11. The cruise lines did offer to build the piers
    As usual people talking and no nothing again. A simple google search found this. Also Dart offered. What else????? How long have you been here? Do you work in Cruise ship tourism ? No problem ask someone who is and stop listening to the scaremongering. The dredge will move 10 feet of material.
    I haven’t written this story before. 1984 Adrian Briggs and myself went in his boat to help look for a missing diver off NW point. We were passing the Dredges’ exhaust line of the Rhapsody which had run aground. Adrian noticed that the exhaust line, had dropped a mountain of marl,sand and silt. He said he had a camera and I dropped over the side and took the picture at 70 feet on the bottom and 30 ft from the surface. As we continued on our journey he said and I agreed that the next North Wester would destroy all of the reefs in GT. GUESS WHAT? ??? IT DIDN’T NOTHING HAPPENED. DIVE COMPANIES HAVE NEVER STOPPED DIVING ON THE REEFS.