Premier Alden McLaughlin reaffirmed his government’s commitment to press ahead with plans for a cruise berthing facility in George Town harbor in the face of increasingly vocal opposition to the project.
With a campaign group gathering signatures in an effort to trigger a “people’s referendum” and a separate Opposition motion tabled calling for the people of the Cayman Islands to decide the fate of the project, Mr. McLaughlin used his State of the Nation address at the opening of the Legislative Assembly session on Cayman Brac Wednesday to defend his government’s plans.
He said the government had taken the “hard but necessary decision” in order to “secure the future of our cruise tourism sector.”
He said the development of cruise piers had been part of almost every political party’s platform for more than a decade and the people had “ample opportunity” – including during last year’s election – to have their say on the question.
“The vast majority of the members of this government campaigned on building a cruise and enhanced cargo port – as did the majority of the members in the last administration,” he said.
“Indeed, in every election over the last 12 or more years, the governments that were formed had a viable cruise dock as part of their election platforms.”
The premier added that his government believed it was in the “vital national interest” of the Cayman Islands to proceed with the project and suggested that the result of the last election showed the majority of voters agreed.
“By allowing larger cruise ships the ability to dock, we are ensuring that we maintain this critical industry into the future – of this I am sure,” he said.
He acknowledged there was a “trade off” in terms of the environment, but said government had worked to reduce the impact of the piers. He also suggested that allowing cruise ships to drop anchor, as they do now, had its own environmental impacts, including “decades of massive anchor damage sustained by the reefs in George Town harbor, often caused by cruise ships.”
He said negotiations were ongoing over the project and insisted it would not represent a “disproportionate risk to government finances.”
He added, “Because of the commercially sensitive nature of the discussions, we cannot provide the kind of running commentary on progress that some have called for, but as the deputy premier has repeatedly promised, as soon as we are able to communicate those details, we will do so.”
He went on to insist that the project had been carried out in a transparent manner with numerous reports published and public meetings held.
An opposition motion calling for a referendum on the dock is expected to be debated Thursday as the Legislative Assembly session on the Brac continues.