Opposition questions claims over port’s economic benefit

Opposition politicians continued to argue against government’s cruise port plan at the latest in a series of public meetings Wednesday night.

The five-member political group took its road show to the Seafarers Hall in Prospect after a whistle-stop tour of the country that has seen presentations take place in every district.

This time, Bodden Town West legislator Chris Saunders took the lead, seeking to debunk some of government’s claims about the likely economic impact of the port.

He highlighted statistics from an industry report by Business Research and Economic Advisors which shows that, of the US$115 average spend by cruise ship passengers in Cayman, spending on watches and jewelry eclipsed all other spending.

“That’s what this is about – watches and jewelry,” he said, suggesting that taxi drivers and tour operators had comparatively little to gain from a cruise port.

He also refuted government’s claim that a port would allow passengers to spend eight hours on the island instead of four. This claim was made initially by Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell in a speech to the Legislative Assembly, but was revised down to five hours when Tim Adam, the CEO of the Cayman Turtle Centre, spoke about it at a public meeting in September. Asked to clarify Thursday, Mr. Kirkconnell said his reference was intended to reflect the maximum amount of hours available to cruise passengers to spend on shore if a port were built. He acknowledged projections for the average number of hours they were anticipated to spend on shore was closer to five.

Mr. Saunders said of all the ports in the Caribbean, including those with cruise berthing, no port got eight hours, according to the BREA report. He said the highest of any port was five hours.

He also questioned claims that the port would help double cruise passenger spending to US$230 a day. He said Cayman’s per passenger spending was already the sixth highest in the Caribbean and there was no port in the region where passengers spend more than US$200 a day. The highest is Saint Martin at US$191.

Mr. Saunders repeated the oft-expressed concern that there was not enough information out there for people to make an informed choice and said he was concerned that spending on the project could balloon.

“We don’t want another John Gray [school construction project], we don’t want another mess like we have at the airport, or another situation where we can’t get the garbage picked up.”

Alva Suckoo, deputy leader of the Opposition, also spoke at the meeting, highlighting claims from the government’s own National Tourism Plan that he said refuted suggestions that the cruise port would be good for Cayman.

The plan states: “The Cayman Islands are being promoted as an exclusive, luxurious destination and many of the accommodation providers are delivering on this promise. These efforts are undermined when large numbers of cruise ship passengers visit the beach areas of these properties and overcrowd the attractions.”

Mr. Suckoo said this showed that building the piers was a bad idea.

“I didn’t write this. It is government’s own tourism plan – they are identifying a serious flaw in their own plan,” he said.

East End legislator Arden McLean, citing his experience as a seamen and an engineer, also gave a presentation on some of the layout and engineering aspects of the project and Courtney Platt, a diver and underwater photographer, gave his presentation on the reefs at George Town harbor. Both presentations, previously reported in the Compass, have been a regular feature of the Opposition meetings.

On this occasion, Mr. McLean also took aim at Premier Alden McLaughlin for comments in a radio interview that he was “insincere” in his opposition to the dock. Mr. McLaughlin told Radio Cayman that many in the Opposition, including Mr. McLean, had previously supported the dock and said he believed they were now opposing it for political reasons.

Mr. McLean said he was not against a dock in principle but did not support this plan and this design and felt the project should be decided by referendum.

Citing Mr. McLaughlin’s previous condemnation of China Harbour Engineering Company as a company with “serious reputational issues,” he said it was the premier that was insincere for now apparently entertaining bids from the same company for the new iteration of the cruise project.

Mr. Platt focused on the environmental impact of silt from the dredging, saying it would kill neighboring reefs.

He dismissed suggestions that the coral reef could be “relocated” – part of the government’s environmental mitigation plan. He said bits of coral could be snipped away and placed elsewhere, but wholesale relocation of a reef was impossible.

Showing pictures of the Balboa reef, within the dredge pit, he said it stretched 80 feet across.

“What they are proposing is like taking the light fixtures from The Ritz-Carlton, moving them somewhere else, and then knocking The Ritz-Carlton down and saying you relocated it,” he said.