Plans for a new cruise port in George Town are going ‘full steam ahead’, according to the Cayman Island Government.
Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin made the announcement at the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon on Wednesday (30th of September).
The Cruise berthing has been the most controversial and divisive issue to face Cayman in recent years. Do the concerns over the damage to the coral reefs outweigh the many hundreds of people and families who rely on jobs created as a result of cruise tourism, and continue to rely on them for years to come ?
Eighty-five percent of tourists arrive to the islands by sea. At the moment the cruise ships must anchor offshore and taxi passengers to the shore. The new port includes docking and direct access to the shore.
Plans for a cable car style ‘Cayman’s Sky Bridge’ were proposed in August by the GreenTech Group, which would have seen passengers transported to the shore from two piers fixed to the sea bed outside the reef line. It would appear however, that the Cayman Government has dismissed that proposal for its original, more traditional one.
According to the environmental impact report released in June, dredging for the new facility will destroy 15 acres of coral reef and further negatively affect another 15 to 20 acres. It will harm 26 unique species of coral, including two critically endangered species and four threatened species.
The plan by the government is to mitigate the environment that will be damaged or destroyed by the berthing facility that was outlined by the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Baird, the ‘worldwide water engineering’ company have released a report that says the mitigation would cost between $20 and $25 million to move just half the 115 thousand corals and could take up to three years.
CNN released an article at the end of September weighing in on the environmental side of the development plan stating, “Relocating entire coral reefs is impossible. It can’t be done, and the proponents of the project who suggest otherwise are wrong.”
Despite the environmental impact of the facility local businesses have commended the Premier on his decisive action to push forward with the project. It is believed that the new port will bring benefits for thousands of workers who rely on cruise tourism for their livelihoods and stimulate growth in cruise-dependent industries.
Veteran businessman Robert Hamaty, of The Tortuga Rum Company, said “Basically I think they made the right decision. A lot of the environmentalists, who jump into the water with a camera, take a picture; they’re concerned, but they don’t employ the amount of people that the cruise industry employs. So the government has made a very wise decision, because the mitigation processes are there to minimize any damage. Nothing is going to happen to Seven Mile Beach”.
At present, the Cayman Islands are the only Caribbean destination without a modern berthing facility in operation or under construction. The decision stated the Cayman Governments intention of retaining a major role in the cruise business.
The question now is not ‘are they or aren’t they?’ but what is the best way to proceed with the project.
“Those who have concerns about the environmental impact, this time provides a very good opportunity for them to engage in the dialogue not with the view to stopping the project, as has been the case over the course of the last year plus, but about assisting us in finding ways to mitigate the impact” said the Premier as he addressed the Chamber Legislative Luncheon.
Some of the costs of the migration have been factored into the $189 million plan but others may drive the cost up by an estimated $34 million.by