Cruise port environmental impact study must be updated

DoE director says EIA update required on cruise berthing

A second phase of the Environmental Impact Assessment on the cruise berthing project will likely be required before Cabinet can grant final approval for construction to begin on the project.

Both Department of Environment director Gina Ebanks-Petrie and project manager Peter Ranger said Friday that an updated environmental study on the new designs would be completed before approval is granted for work to begin.

Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said there was still significant work that needed to take place before the full environmental impacts could be quantified. That includes an examination of the rock on the seabed to determine what technologies would be used during dredging and construction. At this stage, she said, it was not possible to rule out that blasting may be required, something that would increase the extent of the environmental impacts.

Additional studies are also needed on the new design of the dock, she said.

Since the original EIA took place, the design has changed to minimize the amount of coral that has to be dredged. But in some areas, the new design pushes the margins of the dredge pit closer to parts of valuable sites like Eden Rock and Soto’s Reef, potentially making them more vulnerable to the effects of silt. There is also an additional area of dredging closer to shore for the cargo port.

Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said she had not seen the new designs for the port until they were shown at a public meeting in September.

“We haven’t seen those plans in any detail,” she said.

“We have pictures that we took at the meeting but we are hoping to have further discussions to get more information.”

She was speaking firstly on the Rooster FM morning talk show CrossTalk on Friday and later in an interview with the Cayman Compass.

She said her department had been in renewed dialog with the Major Projects Office in the past week and they were now on the same page in terms of the steps required going forward.

“There is now a clear understanding on both sides. From the DoE but also from the Major Projects Office and the Ministry of Tourism of exactly what the process needs to be.”

She said the National Conservation Law mandated that the Environmental Impact Assessment be updated in these circumstances.

She said this would be done by a contractor that had to be approved by the Environmental Assessment Board, which she chairs. She said the terms of reference of that study and the final statement would go out for public consultation before the National Conservation Council made its final recommendation to Cabinet on whether to grant a permit for the work or not.

Cabinet must consider the advice of the council but is not obliged to follow its recommendations.

Peter Ranger, chief project manager at government’s Major Projects Office, said it had always been part of the plan for an updated EIA to be completed once a preferred bidder was selected.

He said that bidder would be responsible for early works activities including a geotechnical survey, finalization of design, submission of a coral relocation plan, dredge management plan and environmental management plan. He said it would also be required to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment, which would go through public consultation.

“The National Conservation Council and Central Planning Authority would then make a recommendation to Cabinet who have to approve the project moving forward to the construction stage which has always been part of this procurement process,” he added.

During the radio interview, Tim Austin, deputy director of the DoE, highlighted areas of coral coverage that would be impacted. Asked about a video shown at government’s Sept. 26 public meeting on the project which appeared to show very little life in George Town harbor, he said that footage was outside of the dredge zone and showed a much deeper area of reef that had been decimated by cruise ship anchors over the years.

Within the dredge pit, he said there was a lot of healthy reef and coral coverage is actually higher than the average elsewhere on the island.

In addition to the zone of coral that will be completely removed for the project, there is a wider area of reef that will be drastically impacted within at least 100 yards of the project, he said. Key sites, including Eden Rock and Soto’s Reef, fall within that wider zone. Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said the initial EIA had established that these areas would be affected.

She said, “It is not reasonable to expect that we are going to be able to dredge a significant amount of fill from the sea bed in close proximity to sensitive coral reef sites like Eden Rock and Soto’s Reef and not have a significant impact.”

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