Government has dismissed claims that construction on the cruise berthing facility could be under way within weeks.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the final bids from three short-listed firms vying for the project are not due until October. He said the winning bidder would not be selected until the end of the year, and it would be some time after that before substantive work could begin.
The minister released a statement Friday evening in response to an internet news report that claimed a locally led consortium in partnership with a cruise line had already been selected for the project and could break ground on the dock as early as September.
Using the term made famous by U.S. president Donald Trump, Mr. Kirkconnell said that report was “fake news.”
He added, “I can affirm that the Cayman Islands government has not made any deal or agreement with any company with respect to the piers.”
Once a preferred bidder is selected, lengthy negotiations to finalize the contract are anticipated before work begins.
The minister also defended the transparency of the procurement process which he said was being overseen by the Central Tenders Committee.
“I can assure the public that the Ministry of Tourism is committed to taking all the time necessary to follow established standards of best practice to ensure that the berthing facility and cargo port deliver the greatest economic benefit with the least environmental impact, and is owned by the people of the Cayman Islands.
“We are proceeding carefully and will not rush the process merely to please supporters or antagonists; neither will we undertake any actions that fly in the face of full transparency,” Mr. Kirkconnell said.
Government announced its decision to progress with the cruise and cargo piers in George Town harbor in 2015. That decision followed months of public debate and rival campaigns for and against the piers after an Environmental Impact Assessment highlighted the damage that would be caused to coral reefs in the harbor.
After numerous delays, including for a feasibility study on the potential to redesign the piers to lessen the environmental impact, the project went out to bid last year. After an initial pre-qualifying phase, five consortiums submitted proposals to design, build, finance and maintain the proposed berthing facility. According to Mr. Kirkconnell’s statement Friday, that was narrowed down to three bidders who are now competing in the final stage of the procurement process.
That process is still ongoing with a ”preferred bidder” expected to be selected by the end of the year.
“As Minister for Tourism,” he said, “I am satisfied with the steady progress being made, particularly since this is a complex process with highly commercially sensitive elements.”
Questions continue to be raised about how the piers will be funded and how much they will cost.
Mr. Kirkconnell has previously suggested that the ongoing bid process will ultimately determine the final price tag.
He insisted the process carries no financial risk to government.
“The financial modelling formula (Design, Build, Finance, Maintain) will essentially be structured so that the bidder finances the construction of the piers in return for a share of the annual revenue collected per passenger,” he told the Compass earlier this year.
Despite those assurances, public concerns over the funding formula and the likely environmental damage have persisted.
Save Cayman, a nonprofit environmental group that opposes the project, also highlighted concerns over transparency in the bid process and claimed the case for the piers had not been proven.
“It has been our position that the environmental and economic costs of this project outweigh the benefits, and there exists little evidence to suggest otherwise,” the group said in a statement.