Many have focussed on the cruise aspect of the $200 million port project, but the expanded cargo facilities are also part of the package.

Cayman’s cargo port is the conduit through which food and essential supplies come to local shores.

Though its inclusion in the referendum question is a point of contention, the need for improved cargo facilities is less controversial.

Government and opposition officials have both said an upgrade at the 42-year-old George Town facility is long overdue. Port Authority leaders have said the port is near its maximum capacity.

In today’s featured interview, Barry Loudermilk, business development director for Orion Marine Group, one of the partners in the Verdant Isle consortium selected as the preferred bidder for the project, gives details of what is planned for cargo.

Barry Loudermilk, business development manager for Orion Marine Group

What are some of the key features of the cargo project?
During the design phase we had the opportunity to make improvements on the cargo. We increased the capacity of the cargo area to 5.9 acres. The current cargo area is 4.7 acres; we increased it by 1.2 acres… [with] the added berth links, the availability of ship berthing is 368 ft and we also added a new cargo pier.

How will these features help the current port operations?
Efficiency, safety. We reviewed some of the footage provided by the Port Authority of some nighttime operations. Currently, they are very crowded trying to move the containers around on ships, moving cars around. We are adding a lot of additional space. With that space we will create better efficiencies for the port and better safety. Right now, it’s just super crowded at night; not only that, they currently have a single Ro Ro facility (roll-on, roll-off capability enabling trucks to drive onto ships), which is pretty small.

What kind of environmental impact are we looking at for this particular aspect of the project?
Overall, we did not separate cargo versus cruise. We just referred to this as the port project because that is what it is. It is not just cruise and cargo, it is a facility, a port project.

Will it allow for bigger ships?
They are going to be able to accommodate more containers for sure. We have increased the square footage or the acreage of the actual yard but as far as the ships’ sizes… we are not bringing in large vessels. That’s a Panamax ship, we are not bringing that in. 400 feet, I think, is the limits of our design.

How is the referendum affecting your plans?
It is not impacting our planning strategy. We are fully prepared that if the people of Grand Cayman say no to the port there is no harm, no foul. We will walk away from it and we will be friends. Orion Marine group, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, we have been a part of this society for a long time. A lot of people don’t realise that Orion Marine group through acquisition had purchased Meisner [Marine Construction] who originally built the facility in George Town now. McAlpine actually built the first facility, we did a big extension, as well as the improvements in Cayman Brac. We are moving forward until the people of Cayman say no or yes.

How important is this as a group to carry on the legacy that started with Meisner?
If at any time there is impact to the environment that is catastrophic or even to a point where we can’t live with it, our legacy as a company is we won’t live with it. We will basically say that’s enough, we can’t go forward with it and I know the cruise lines stand behind that statement as well. We are stewards of the environment. I know there have been a lot of questions about that, but we are. As Orion Marine Group, we operate in Alaska, Tacoma, Houston, Florida, East Coast, Caribbean so we are in a lot of places and we cannot afford to make a mistake nor will we.

How will port/cruise operations be managed during construction if the green light is given?
There is a full phasing plan that we are still working through the refinement of. We hope to make that public in the very near future. But for the Caymanian people, [neither] port operations nor the cruise operations are going to be affected by this project as far as having to stop for days and wait, nor are the vendors on the streets or the shop owners. Life is going to go on and you’re still going to have ships anchored, tendering operations are still going to happen, cargo is still going to happen. We had a really good dialogue with NRA (National Roads Authority) and we are working with them on their master plan.

What benefit would be derived from the project that you are putting forward?
From a cargo aspect, number one, it’s going to be a bigger facility. They’re going to be able to expand the imports as far as having more room to put more stuff. As far as an economic benefit, the consortium has no port operations in our bid so I can’t speak on economic benefits. That has to be from the government or the Port Authority because they manage the cargo coming in and how that whole efficiency programme works.

With all the controversy surrounding this project how do you feel about it moving ahead?
Every project that we do is a challenge wherever it is at. We work throughout the islands, throughout a lot of places where we are very sensitive to our environment … in the US as well. Where we are today we are very happy that we have been awarded preferred bidder and we support the Cayman Islands, the government and the people that are voting on this referendum whether it’s yes or no. We would love to move forward with this. I think it is an excellent project for the country. I think it is going to bring a lot of economic drivers, as well as it is going to add to the class of service that the ships will be able to provide to the docks.