Opposition politicians are calling for government to hold a public referendum on whether to proceed with the cruise pier project in George Town harbor.
The political group believes the project is not necessary and does not have the support of the majority of the Cayman Islands people.
Opposition leader Ezzard Miller has tabled a private members’ motion calling for the people to decide on the issue. The motion, seconded by East End legislator Arden McLean and supported by all five members of the official opposition, will likely be debated at the next session of the Legislative Assembly, on Cayman Brac in early September.
Mr. Miller acknowledged that government was unlikely to grant the request for a public vote.
But he hopes it will force government to reveal more details of the project, what it involves, how it will be funded and who the shortlisted bidders are.
“The government will have to respond to our charges and we will force them to unveil more of the totality of what is going on,” he said.
Mr. Miller believes the motion could also increase momentum for a people-initiated referendum. Under the islands’ constitution, government is obliged to hold a referendum on any issue of “national importance” if Cabinet is presented with a petition signed by 25 percent of registered voters.
“That is an option that is open to us and we will be prepared to support other agencies who are in the process of trying to initiate a people’s referendum,” he added.
Mr. Miller, who held a press conference to announce the motion at his George Town office Thursday, said there was no justification for the cruise pier project.
Citing figures from a 2015 environmental impact assessment report on the project, he said the piers would have a direct negative impact on water sports businesses in George Town that rely on the reef for their livelihood. The report indicated economic losses of around $20 million each year for that sector.
He also took issue with subsequent projections in a business case study that the cruise piers would lead to an overall net economic benefit for Cayman.
That report was based on the projection that cruise numbers would decline significantly if new piers were not built. Mr. Miller said there was no evidence that this was the case.
“There can be no justification or urgency to build a cruise pier in the face of government-reported sustained growth in the cruise ship and passenger visits year-on-year for the last five years,” he said.
Cruise arrivals tipped one million for the first six months of 2018, and while it is broadly accepted that those numbers were buffered by ships diverted from hurricane-hit islands in the eastern Caribbean, Mr. Miller said the overall trend for Cayman was positive – with or without a cruise dock.
He said the Cayman Islands was a key destination on cruise lines’ western Caribbean itineraries and that would remain the case.
“The Good Lord put the Cayman Islands in the correct geographical location, a day’s sail from Montego Bay and Ocho Rios,” he said.
“At some point in time, government has to acknowledge that there is really no need for these cruise piers in order for the industry to sustain itself. That has been consistently demonstrated over the past 20 years,” he added.
He said that the project was not supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Cayman Islands Tourism Association or the Watersports Association, and that the majority of written submissions from the public during the environmental impact assessment process had expressed opposition to the project.
Mr. Miller said the opposition’s position was that the Cayman Islands should support the tender operators in obtaining better vessels and make a smaller scale investment in improving facilities around the port for disembarking passengers.
The private members’ motion highlights a lack of information on the specifics of the project, objections from the general public, fears of environmental impact to coral reefs, including dive sites, in the harbor, and concerns over the affordability of the project.
It adds, “Be it therefore resolved that government hold a referendum to determine if the majority of Caymanians support the proposal for the cruise berthing facility and that such a referendum be held as soon as possible.
“And be it therefore resolved that no contracts to design, finance, build and maintain the facility are awarded prior to the publishing of the outcome of the referendum.”