No construction contracts will be signed for the cruise berthing project before the May general election, raising the possibility that a new government could decide to revise the plan or abandon it.
Backers of a dock to support cruise tourism had declared victory in the battle with opponents concerned about the financial and environmental costs after government committed to go ahead with the plan in 2015.
But delays in the extensive planning process appear to have put the issue back on the table with an election looming.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell confirmed this week that government’s expected time line for the project had been revised. He said the plan, which calls for two new piers in George Town harbor capable of accommodating four cruise ships, including the new generation 6,000-passenger mega-ships, would now not go out to tender until June.
Now, opponents of the proposal say they are hopeful that a new government could take a different approach.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the Progressives government remained committed to delivering a “world-class cruise facility” and said he hoped any future government would follow through with the plan after the election.
“While the Ministry is unable to speak for future administrations, we would hope that the utmost consideration would continue to be given to the best interests of the Caymanian people and the future sustainability of the cruise tourism industry,” he said in an emailed response to questions from the Cayman Compass.
He attributed delays in the project to government’s desire to follow best practice for major projects, which include a business case and environmental impact assessment report, as well as later attempts to alter the design to address community concerns about damage to coral reefs in the harbor.
“The Ministry is pleased with the steady progress being made and is satisfied that we are doing everything possible to deliver a world-class and affordable cruise berthing facility,” he added.
“Some aspects of the process are unfortunately taking more time but even so, the process should not be rushed, otherwise we run the risk of compromising the efficacy of the reports.”
Government is in the process of selecting consultants to help formulate the financial model for the project, which is expected to cost around $200 million.
Mr. Kirkconnell believes the reports commissioned by the government have demonstrated the need for cruise berthing facilities for the island’s economy.
“The provision of a cruise berthing facility is an issue relevant to the future sustainability of the cruise tourism industry and the people who depend on the success of this industry for their livelihoods. It can therefore be considered a national issue rather than an election issue,” he added.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush also supports a cruise berthing facility. But he stopped short of committing to follow through with the current government’s plan for George Town harbor if he is elected as premier again in May.
“I am concerned that we do need a cruise pier, particularly for the mom and pop operations that depend mostly on cruise tourism. We have to be concerned about that, but we also have to look at any damage to the corals and the dredging that will be required.
“After the election, I would sit down with both sides and look at the pros and cons. We would need to know how much is it really going to cost and how is it going to be paid for. I don’t think we have had all the answers about that yet.”
He said he expected the issue to be a talking point in the run-up to the election.
“It will be an issue for the PPM because they gave me licks about it and four years later they haven’t done anything except more reports.”
Sustainable Cayman, which led protests against the port plan in 2015, said in a statement that it hoped priority would be given to preserving Cayman’s natural environment.
“Through petitions and peaceful protest, thousands of Caymanians and friends of our islands have expressed the desire to protect these reefs and shown concern for the state of our environment ….
We have yet to see any evidence that the claimed economic benefits will justify the ecological damage and the significant cost of the proposed Cruise Berthing Facility.
“Our small islands cannot withstand the effects of overdevelopment, nor do we have the infrastructure to support such large influxes of people and our own growing population. We need to begin to have a conversation about how to sustainably develop our tourism industry, and our country, as a community,” the statement said.
Robert Hamaty, owner of the Tortuga Rum Factory and chair of the Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism, said he believes any sensible government would follow through with the cruise pier project.
“I fail to see a new government not going ahead unless their decision is to let George Town die,” he added.
Cruise project timeline
The request for proposals for consultants to assist with the financial modeling was issued in December 2016
Submissions in response to the RFP are due this month
The review process is under way and a contract is expected to be awarded in February 2017
Pre-qualification period for contractors is expected to run from March to May 2017
The request for proposals inviting pre-qualified contractors to submit a bid is expected to be issued in June
A contract for construction is to be awarded later in 2017.