The price tag for managing the environmental impact of building cruise piers in George Town harbor could rise to more than $40 million, depending on which options government decides to pursue.
A preliminary analysis of the potential costs of various mitigation measures, outlined by government’s lead environmental consultant Baird & Associates, highlights a menu of options for limiting damage caused by the construction project.
The report also suggests there is “uncertainty” about the core project cost estimate, pitched at $156 million, including a $33 million contingency.
Some environmental mitigation measures are factored into that cost estimate, but others, such as coral relocation, are not.
The consultants say the final bill will depend on what level of environmental mitigation government opts for.
For example, relocating 15 percent of the hard corals in the construction zone would cost between $8 million and $10 million, according to Baird. That price rises to between $15 million and $18 million if a third of the corals are relocated, and could cost as much as $25 million if 45 percent of the corals are moved.
Moving the historic Balboa shipwreck would cost an additional $800,000 to $1.5 million, the consultants say.
Placing constraints on the method and the timing of dredging operations could also see project costs rise by a further $3 million to $4 million.
A 300-foot-wide seabed protection system to help screen neighboring coral reefs from sediment spread by the ships’ propellers and thrusters would cost on the order of $6 million to $12 million.
A further $75,000 a year could be spent on noise and vibration monitoring, while air quality monitoring would cost around $200,000 a year, according to the analysis of options prepared by Baird.
The consultants say it is impossible to estimate the scope and cost of mitigating economic losses to tender operators and dive and water sports businesses without input from government. Baird has estimated losses in the region of $14.5 million annually for those businesses and recommends government consider a program to compensate them and retrain staff.
The report also recommends that government hire consultants to develop a “landside masterplan” for the reclaimed land area on the dock, and complete “carrying capacity” studies of infrastructure and other tourist attractions.
The report adds, “With respect to the various mitigation measures that could be implemented to address adverse impacts, the general magnitude of their costs needs to be considered, along with the uncertainty in the total project cost estimate at this time (CI$156M, including a CI$33M contingency). Should the [Cayman Islands government] decide to proceed with the project, a key objective of the design development phase will be to create a project design and construction scheme that integrates the mitigation of potential.”
The report contains a disclaimer that the consultants were given 10 days to produce it and suggests there is “some uncertainty” in the results because of this.
A table summarizing the mitigation options rates the likelihood of success of coral relocation as “mid” on a range of low-high.
The consultants, in an earlier environmental statement, 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 classified the impact as a Significant Negative Impact (-D).
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said Baird had identified coral relocation as a viable mitigation option.
Countering suggestions from opponents of the port that coral relocation will not work, he said, “There is no point in commissioning experts with years of experience in their respective fields to provide us with scientifically based analyses and recommendations only to subjectively reject what they are saying. In this instance, Baird, who conducted the EIA, and CSA, who undertook the Benthic Habitat Survey, have both assessed coral relocation as being a viable mitigation option.
“Baird are internationally recognized experts in coastal and marine science, while CSA began doing coral reattachment during the infancy of this technique and have been instrumental in refining coral reattachment procedures as a means of accelerating habitat recovery.”
In a separate development on Friday, the National Conservation Council released a statement, in response to the Benthic survey undertaken by CSA, questioning the likely success of any coral relocation program and suggesting the costs could spiral well beyond what is outlined in the reports.
“Cost information obtained by the Council from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary indicates that relocating 134,000 corals would cost well in excess of US$40 million,” it said in a statement.
“Coral relocation will not achieve ‘no net loss’ of coral in the direct impact zone and will not mitigate indirect impacts outside of the project footprint. No suitable recipient site, if relocation were to be attempted, has been identified and Council remains skeptical that one can be found.
“Coral translocation is, in fact, not mitigation for the in situ coral but a compensatory measure that should not be considered until mitigation in the form of avoidance or minimisation of the impact in situ has been completely ruled out,” it added.