Government is seeking to establish the cost of altering the design of the proposed cruise berthing facility to minimize environmental damage, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said this week.
Mr. Kirkconnell said an engineering study had demonstrated that it was technically feasible to move the pier into deeper water to reduce the amount of dredging required.
The solution would represent a compromise with campaigners concerned at the extent of damage to coral reef habitat in and around George Town harbor if the project proceeds.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the next step in the project, which went out to tender last month, was for a more detailed study to establish the cost of the alternative design. Initial reports had put the project costs in the region of $150 million, but moving the pilings into deeper water would be expected to add to that expense.
The financing model for the project remains to be determined and is dependent on negotiations with the cruise lines, as well as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which has a remit to ensure major capital projects do not negatively impact the sustainability of the Cayman Islands’ annual budget.
Any significant escalation in the construction costs would likely impact the viability of the project from a financing perspective.
Mr. Kirkconnell said Wednesday that the original consultants, Baird, had examined alternate pier designs at the government’s request, following widespread public concerns over the level of dredging involved in the original plan.
“We have had a report submitted to us that shows the cruise berthing facility can be engineered with less of an impact on the environment, but we don’t know what the cost of that is. That’s why the RFP went out to look at what the cost would be of putting it in deeper water.”
Despite the additional work, Mr. Kirkconnell said he was confident that a final decision would be made soon on whether the project could proceed.
He said government was being open and transparent and doing everything it could to ensure it had the best information to make the right call.
“We have a process we have to follow and we continue to follow that process. We believe we will be able to make a decision before the next election,” he said.
“We can’t look at a funding model until we know what the cost is going to be.”
Speaking as government announced it would break ground on phase two of the airport expansion next month, Mr. Kirkconnell acknowledged that the cruise pier, the country’s other main tourism infrastructure project, was not proceeding so smoothly.
He added, “Everything is about timing. When we were releasing a lot of information about the cruise berthing, we were seeing comments saying we should be moving faster with the airport.”