Cruise Port Referendum Cayman has submitted a three-part letter to the Cayman Compass outlining its concerns about the proposed facility. This is part 1.
As the Elections Office verification process passes 85% and the first constitutionally enshrined people-initiated referendum becomes a certainty, much of the critical data Caymanian voters will need to be able to truly make an informed decision, has still not been made public by the government.
The government should release any undisclosed information that they do hold immediately, and the referendum date should be scheduled to allow for the completion of and public consultation on the updated Environmental Impact Assessment and updated Final Business Case reports, to allow citizens of our islands to make a fully informed decision on this matter of national importance.
This three-part letter seeks to highlight some, but not all, of the numerous significant and unquantified risks where mitigation strategies could be (i) high cost (ii) unidentified (iii) based on unreliable data or (iv) subject to environmental uncertainty associated with this project.
Berthing facility design
Following the preferred bidder announcement on 29 July 2019, no design has been made public showing numerical data to quantify the direct impact of the footprint, including dredge area, concrete area and location relative to the surrounding marine ecosystems of coral reefs, hard pan and sandy bottom habitat, and historic shipwrecks.
Marine Habitat loss
The 2015 design, which an Environmental Impact Assessment (the ‘EIA’ or ‘Baird Report’) was conducted on, proposed direct dredging involving permanent and irreversible removal of 15 acres of coral reef and total dredging of 32 acres of seabed. A footprint with 20% less dredging directly excavates 12 acres of invaluable marine habitat, 25.6 acres of seabed in total, in addition to indirect lethal and sub-lethal impacts on surrounding reefs.
Lethal and sub-lethal sedimentation from dredging during construction and periodically during operation, as well as cruise ship thrusters during operation, will impact marine ecosystems approximately 220 metres surrounding the immediate dredged area (Baird Non-Technical Summary Section 14, see Figure 14.1). The public needs to have information on the design to see how extensive this indirect negative consequence will be.
Dredging of limestone and coral material creates milky white ‘clouds’ in the water column clearly observable at other port locations around the Caribbean.
Cayman is famous for our enviable, over 100 feet visibility, of water clarity.
George Town harbour’s breathtaking crystal-clear aquamarine waters are the first view of Grand Cayman for both air and cruise arrivals.
This will be lost forever, replaced by a cloudy murky sea we are more familiar with only during Nor’westers (but without the high waves). Are we prepared for this irreversible loss and the immediate disappointment of our visitors?
Air pollution risks, monitoring and mitigation have not been highlighted by the government despite an entire section of the Baird report dedicated to air quality (Appendix G). Perhaps this is unsurprising as the Cayman Islands has no numerical standards on ambient air quality.
There will be significantly more air pollution as a result of ships closer to shore and increased road traffic. Does government have any pollution mitigation strategies?
How is government planning to prevent health related illnesses from increased air pollution? Will government provide better health insurance over and above the SHIC plan?
Is it fair that those working and living in the immediate George Town harbour area are exposed to these toxic fumes?
Low-lying George Town residents and merchants risk an increased susceptibility of storm flooding once the natural occurring coastal coral reef defences are permanently destroyed.
Seawalls are costly, unsightly and protection is not guaranteed.
Parts 2 and 3 will examine the proposed coral relocation, socioeconomic considerations, job opportunities, infrastructure impacts, carrying capacity and the financing model.
In conclusion, we wish to emphasise the importance of ensuring the referendum question chosen by Cabinet fairly reflects the original petition wording and is clear, easy to understand for voters and ensures fairness and objectivity.
Linda Clark, FCCA, MSc Marine Environmental Management
On behalf of CPR Cayman