A crowd of more than 200 people filled much of Celebration Park in downtown George Town Wednesday night as the Cruise Port Referendum group held its first rally in the runup to the 19 Dec. vote that will determine whether government’s cruise berthing and cargo port project will go forward.
Attorney and former political candidate Alric Lindsay, a supporter of the referendum and the CPR group, was among those in attendance.
“I don’t think a balanced view has been given by the government,” Lindsay said.
Referendum supporters and the government have been in a pitched battle over the $200 million port project that would allow George Town harbour to accommodate the Oasis class mega ships. Other cruise ships would also be able to use the permanent dock, eliminating the need for tender boats to take passengers from ships moored in the harbour to shore. Both sides have claimed their opponents are promoting inaccurate information on the port.
Lindsay said he thinks public sentiment is against proceeding with the port project.
“Most of the people in my neighbourhood are saying ‘no’,” he said.
But he’s not hopeful the referendum will be successful. Getting more than half the electorate to turn out to vote on a single issue is a high bar, he said.
“I think it’s going to take a lot of door-to-door contact,” Lindsay added.
Sam Nehra, 44, of Red Bay, takes a more optimistic view. She and her husband, Jason, have been working as volunteers for CPR and she too thinks one-on-one contact with voters will be key to passing the referendum.
“Door-to-door is our best chance,” she said. “You can do that in this sized country.”
Sitting with a friend in the back row, Moony Pak, 48, of George Town, said she came to the meeting because she wanted more information on the pros and cons of the port project. She said she’s concerned about the potential environmental impacts of dredging a deeper port.
“Appreciate what you have and hold onto it,” Pak said. “Once you change it, you won’t get it back.”
William Banker, 84, of West Bay, said he thinks the risk of environmental damage is too great.
“To me, it’s just destroying what tourists are coming to see,” Banker said. “I hope they don’t destroy what we’ve got. What are they going to do if they’re wrong about it affecting the beach? If it goes away now, it will never come back.”
MLAs Chris Saunders and Kenneth Bryan took time off from a Finance Committee meeting in the Legislative Assembly to address the expanding crowd, which had grown to about 150 people by 7pm. Saunders said he was initially neutral about the project but that the more he looked into it, the less he found to support it.
“I could not find one single reason,” he said.
He told the crowd he’s worried Cayman might have the same problems with environmental and economic damage Jamaica reportedly experienced when it enlarged its port to accommodate cruise traffic.
“They sold Jamaica a bill of goods,” Saunders said, referring to the cruise ship companies. “I ran into a senior member of the Jamaican government. What he said to me was, they got a six for a nine. They got taken advantage of.”
Roy Bodden, president emeritus of the University College of the Cayman Islands, encouraged the audience to watch the documentary, ‘Jamaica for Sale’, which looks at the negative impact of tourism on that country.
“This documentary is a precursor to what will happen in the Cayman Islands,” Bodden said. “Our progeny will curse us if we leave such a legacy for them.”
On the science front, Carrie Manfrino, director of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute and Kelly Dunning, a professor at Auburn University, cast doubt on the research the government has cited in promoting the limited impact of the port project on Cayman’s reefs. Officials have said much of the existing coral could be transplanted in a nearby area.
Dunning encouraged the crowd to search Google Scholar for peer-reviewed studies of coral transplantation of similar size to the plans for the George Town port.
“They do not exist,” she said. “This [coral transplanting] technology is riddled with uncertainty.”
During a question-and-answer segment, a civil servant who said he had been told not to attend such meetings, received a standing ovation for speaking out.
CPR member Johann Moxam, who closed out the event, blamed government leaders for trying to limit information and suppress the 19 Dec. vote.
“The government in that building drove us to have a referendum,” he said, pointing to the Legislative Assembly. “They don’t feel they have to answer to any of you. And that puts us on the path of being a banana republic.”
Moxam called the vote an opportunity to change the political landscape in Cayman.
“This group, this movement, this initiative is all of us,” he said. “It started with pockets of people who were tired of being ignored by their elected officials. It grew to an army of, I’ll say it proudly, rascals.”
He encouraged the crowd to educate themselves on the proposed project.
“This decision is too big to get it wrong,” he said.