The final proposed design for the new cruise port reduces the ‘dredge footprint’ of the project by around 20%, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
The design, submitted by Verdant Isle Port Partners, still involves dredging some 68,000 square metres of the seabed to make way for the new berthing facility. The original design involved 97,000 square metres of dredging.
There is also a slight reduction in the amount of ‘reclaimed land’ for the port.
The new design shifts the angle of the piers, extending them into deeper water, to allow for less dredging.
Despite those changes, environmental campaigners remain concerned about the impact the project will have on the harbour, which includes multiple popular diving and snorkelling sites, including Eden Rock and Cheeseburger Reef.
Linda Clark, part of the campaign for a referendum on the port project, said the sedimentation from dredging during construction and operations would be fatal for the neighbouring coral reefs. She said more information was needed on the extent of the impact beyond the dredge zone itself.
Eden Rock, which attracts thousands of divers annually to its network of underwater caverns and tunnels, is directly adjacent to where the new piers will be built.
Clark added that any coral relocation would be largely cosmetic and would not be adequate to replace the “ancient, complex structures” that would be lost as a result of the project.
The Ministry of Tourism, in a series of written responses to questions from the Cayman Compass, indicated that a $10 million coral relocation project was part of the $196.5 million bid from Verdant Isle. Around 30% of the species within the construction zone will be relocated, the ministry indicated.
The new design will be put under the microscope in a new phase of the environmental impact assessment.
Verdant Isle is scheduled to submit an application to the Environmental Assessment Board, chaired by Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie, within the next few weeks, seeking approval for Baird Consulting, the authors of the original EIA, to carry out the new inquiry.
A ‘scoping report’ will then be produced for the board, comparing the new design with the 2015 design and highlighting any significant changes. The board will then review the report and set the terms of reference for the next phase of that study.
Ebanks-Petrie said the board would get public input, including holding public meetings, before and after the next phase of the assessment.
“Once we get the public feedback,” she said, “we can finalise the terms of reference for Baird. They would then do the work and produce a draft environmental statement and that would again go out for public consultation.”
She said that statement, which would highlight the full environmental impacts of the project and any possible mitigation measures, will be made public and there will be another public meeting involving the consultants to discuss its findings.
The environmental assessment is just one element of a number of preparatory studies taking place simultaneously as government gears up to get the cruise berthing project under way.
A coastal works application will be submitted later this month for a ‘geotechnical survey’ which will comprise 20 boreholes across the marine works site and coral relocation site.
The results of that survey will be required to finalise the detailed design of the piers and obtain geotechnical information required as part of the ‘coral relocation’ and ‘dredge management’ plan, according to the ministry’s written responses.
Other early work will include a ‘bathymetry’ study of the ocean floor in the harbour and detailed mapping and surveying of corals for the relocation project.
“This survey information will then be used to model dredging activities, update the coral relocation plan and update the dredge management plan as part of the environmental permitting process,” the ministry said in its response to the Compass.
Clark, of Cruise Port Referendum Cayman, said there were still multiple environmental concerns that have not been addressed.
“Sedimentation as a result of dredging during construction, as well as during operation, will be fatal to reefs surrounding the immediate dredged area. The public needs to have information on the design to see how extensive this will be,” she said.
She added that any updated study should also consider the amount of jobs that would be lost in the harbour, including those in snorkelling, diving and submarine businesses.