Opposition highlights concerns over three-year port construction

Miller asks, where’s the plan?

Opposition leader Ezzard Miller has called for government to explain how it plans to handle cruise ship passengers during an anticipated three-year construction period for the new port.

Mr. Miller reiterated that he opposes the port project and believes government ultimately will have to discard the plan after a people’s referendum. But he said he was concerned at the absence of information coming from the administration about its plans, should the project materialize as proposed.

He said in a statement, “Government has said nothing about how they plan to mitigate the impact of the dredging and complex construction activities for the proposed cruise ship port on the disembarkation, processing and return of passengers to ships, as well as passengers’ ease of access to landside recreational arrangements.

“How that management aspect that could have markedly adverse impacts on the future of the industry will be addressed has to be a concern for the industry and the population as a whole and should be addressed.

“At the very least, we need an explanation by Government on how the disembarkation and re-boarding of passengers will be handled over the two-to-three years of works – if the project sees the light of day.”

Responding to Mr. Miller’s comments on Sunday, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism said management of the facility during construction would be the responsibility of whichever consortium wins the bid.

She said details would not be made public until the preferred bidder had been selected.

“The invitation to submit [a] final tender included a requirement for the cruise and cargo port operations to remain functional during the construction phase of the project.

“As the procurement process is still ongoing, it is premature and inappropriate to release information regarding the project during this period. When the final submissions are received and the successful bidder has been identified, the Ministry looks forward to sharing more information with the public,” she said in an emailed response to questions from the Compass.

Mr. Miller, in his press release Friday, repeated some of his concerns about the project, refuting government’s oft-stated argument that piers were necessary because the larger Oasis-class ships would not tender.

He said that would be proved wrong when a mega-ship, similar in size to the Oasis ships, does just that later this year. The 171,598 ton MSC Meraviglia, the fourth largest cruise ship in the world at the time it was built in 2017 and reportedly capable of holding more than 5,700 passengers at maximum capacity, is scheduled to stop in Cayman in December.

Cruise arrivals rose 10 percent to a decade-long high of 1.92 million in 2018. Though government attributes this largely to an influx of ships from hurricane-hit destinations in the eastern Caribbean, Mr. Miller says there is no evidence to support the theory that Cayman will lose ground in the cruise business if it does not build a port.

“The trend of the increasing numbers of cruise-ship passenger arrivals and the tendering of the mammoth ship later this year undermine Government’s argument that tendering poses an overwhelming threat to the continued wellbeing of the cruise industry,” he added.

He said the lack of information about the management of the facility during construction could actually have the opposite effect of damaging the cruise industry.

“While the Opposition remains opposed to the project and do not believe it will become a reality, the lack of information on the interim management for the disembarking and re-boarding of cruise passengers is definitely another big concern joining all the others, including costs, and environmental and business impacts,” Mr. Miller said.

“It would be really ironic that the costliest investment resulted in the gravest of consequences.”

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