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Port EIA Important

Minister of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce, the Hon. Charles Clifford is encouraging citizens to make submissions on the terms of reference for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the port development as the period for public comment has been extended. Leader of Government Business the Hon. Kurt Tibbetts yesterday announced the extension, giving the public until 30 January to comment.

The EIA which is being carried out by internationally reputed consulting firm CH2M Hill will study the possible environmental, social and economic ramifications of the port expansion.

An initial list of 14 terms to be covered in the EIA was compiled by the Department of Environment; these will be revised following the public consultation period.

This is the first time in Cayman's history that such an extensive environmental impact assessment has been included in a development project, Mr Clifford said, adding that it is a demonstration of the government's commitment to changing Cayman's past of unplanned development.

"The EIA is not a mere formality as some may believe. The government remains committed to striking that delicate balance between our development goals and preserving the environment and the way of life of the Caymanian people."

"This port expansion project has the future prosperity of Cayman and Caymanians at its heart and as such we must do it right," Minister Clifford said.

The primary objective of the port development is to establish a modern facility that will separate cruise and cargo handling to avoid the conflicts which now result from the dual function of the existing port. The proposed new cruise pier facility will accommodate four ships at berth and will be capable of tendering an additional 4 ship on unusually heavy days; while the cargo facility includes a dock; administrative building, on land workshop and parking area. The EIA will also consider advantages of various construction methodologies and design.

In 1994, the Master Port Development Plan proposed George Town as the most appropriate location for the port expansion project, but with the EIA, Government is taking the process even further to confirm this, Minister Clifford said.

He reiterated that if the EIA indicates that unavoidable and irreparable damage will be done to the Seven Mile Beach area as an example, the project will not go forward.

Underscoring the importance of the project, he said the development on Cayman's waterfront will safeguard the future viability of the cruise industry which earns some US$186 million for the islands each year as well as supports numerous small businesses.

"What many people may not realize is how big a role cruise tourism plays in the Islands' overall economic health and well-being," Minister Clifford said. "Cruise lines pay to make calls to Cayman. These funds go directly into the national coffers to support projects and programmes in all three islands."

The Cayman Islands has fallen behind its regional competitors in berthing facilities, and the capacity for cargo -- the lifeline into the Islands for consumer goods and raw material for development projects -- will be exhausted by 2014 according to the Port Authority.

From a developmental standpoint, using tenders in the cruise business has become a thing of the past in many jurisdictions, even some less developed than Cayman, he said, adding: "Most of our western Caribbean competitors such Roatan, Honduras and Montego Bay and Ocho Rios Jamaica, have walk-on cruise facilities."

Berthing contributes to enhanced visitor experience and provides further incentive for visitors to disembark from ships and come on land to spend, he continued.

In addition, he said, the fact that overall cruise ship arrivals have remained steady, figures for Royal Caribbean - which caters to high end visitors -- have been declining. Royal Caribbean is currently consolidating into large mega ship capacities of up to 6,000 passengers. Smaller vessels will be redeployed outside the Caribbean making existing tendering facilities inadequate, he explained. By 2010, Cayman could be welcoming less than 25 per cent of that cruise line's numbers if steps are not taken to improve the Islands' facilities.

The Minister made the point that development is less about increasing the number of daily visitors to George Town and more about improving their experience, so they will continue to choose Cayman as a holiday destination.

"There is already a provision that no more that 6 ships or a maximum of 15,000 persons may disembark at any one time and this remains in effect. The key difference this port will make is that it will improve visitor experience", Minister Clifford said.

Because of the dual use of the port, cargo activities can only take place at night. This situation contributes to less than ideal working conditions for port workers and to limited use of the waterfront at nights.

"The new facility will be able to accommodate growth of cargo traffic, larger ships and increased landside movement and management," he added.

Persons are being asked to give their views on other areas of concern that the EIA should take into consideration.

Areas to be covered by the EIA

The initial EIA prepared by the DoE covered some 14 areas:

  • Sediment transport within the influence of the project
  • Wave energy under worst case and typical conditions and potential shoreline impact
  • Water quality including potential for generating turbidity during and after construction
  • Effects on existing coastal ecosystems and resources within the footprint and adjacent area of the project
  • Effects of any construction blasting should it be required
  • Effects on the existing operations of the port and other maritime-related stakeholders
  • Effects on adjacent historical/archaeological resources
  • Extent and scale of impact on adjacent waterfront business district
  • Effects of proposed near-shore berthing and operation of ships at berthing facility
  • Effects of the proposed cargo facility on road network
  • Hazard vulnerability due to flooding, hurricanes, and storm surge
  • Socio-economic analyses to identify possible negative economic impacts of project with respect to its initial funding and operation
  • Analysis of alternatives to the proposed project
  • Identification of possible measures to prevent or reduce significant negative impacts both during and after construction.

For further information contact: Prudence Barnes