EAB: Port poses ‘major negative impacts’

| 17/08/2015 | 19 Comments
Cayman News Service

The Balboa Shipwreck and reef is located in 10 to 30 feet of water immediately in front of the cruise ship landing and will be completely removed by dredging operations if the cruise berth goes ahead as planned. Many consider the Balboa to be both the number one and number two of the top ten dive sites in Grand Cayman – night dive is #1, day dive is #2 (Photo by Courtney Platt)

(CNS): The Environmental Assessment Board (EAB), which has examined the port proposal, has fallen short of telling government not to press ahead with the massively destructive cruise berthing project but has listed a catalogue of major negative impacts and uncertainties that it needs to consider. Citing major concerns, such as “assumptions made in EIA because of a lack of accurate geological information” and the major economic as well as environmental losses, both during and after the construction phase, the board has urged government to factor these negative impacts into the business case before it makes a decision.

In their comments about the project, made public on Monday, members of the EAB — a specialist technical committee convened to look at the EIA — pointed to significant problems. They said there is real uncertainty over turbidity, blasting, dredging, how the dredged material will be disposed of, assessments about the need for future dredging, the security of the reclaimed land and other potential geographical problems.

The board found serious gaps in the geological data, which was not gathered as per the terms of reference for the EIA because of the timeline imposed. This, they said, may lead to unexpected problems that could delay the project and significantly increase costs.

Data on how sensitive older buildings in the downtown harbour area of George Town, such as the Elmslie Church and the National Museum, would withstand vibrations from the work and the blasting during the construction phase if the project goes ahead is also missing, the technical board stated.

In yet another negative assessment about the berthing proposal, which now has only very limited support in the community, the board pointed out that the cost of mitigation has not been factored into the outline business case or the overall price tag for the project.

The EAB said government must get an idea of those costs before it starts this project because the bottom line would be impacted by the cost of the mitigation measures it decides to take, as well as the cost of environmental loss if those measures fail or as a result of the measures it chose not to take.

The EAB found very few positive impacts associated with this project but listed numerous negative ones, such as very significant concerns about the turbidity relating to dredging and the land reclamation, and the direct destruction of coral reef — including endangered coral species. The EAB pointed out that trying to relocate just 10 acres of reef could cost more than $70 million.

As well as the 15 acres of reef that is within the direct dredging platform, the board pointed to the more than 20 additional acres of marine habitat that will be lost during and after construction.

Questioning the effectiveness of silt screens as a mitigating measure against the turbidity, the board warned that there are too many variables, making it difficult to protect the reefs against coral smothering from silt. The high rates of reef morbidity from this project could also have an unquantifiable knock-on impact on the marine environment and the EAB sounded the alarm about a potential environmental tipping point for all the local reef systems and related marine habitat.

They also stated that moving the wreck of the Balboa would not only be a costly project but there would be no guarantee of success.

The EAB emphasized the need to update the outline business case, which has fueled the project process so far but which has not accounted for myriad other costs revealed in the EIA. The project is expected to result in an economic loss from the reefs of as much as $27 million a year, which needs to be factored into the outline business case, the board said, along with numerous other costs and potential problems that were never considered by auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, when they gave their original economic view of the proposal.

The EAB also raised concerns about the social and economic impact three years of construction would have on the wider tourism product and George Town, since there would be major disruption to cargo and cruise calls, as well as retail and restaurant business during the lifetime of the project.

Although the case for cruise berthing piers in the George Town harbor gets increasingly difficult to justify, the government has remained silent. Cabinet now has a massive amount of information and feedback from the community but it is still not clear when its members will be discussing the plan.

Proposed Cruise Berthing Facility Environmental Statement – Environmental Assessment Board’s Review

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Category: development, Local News, Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (19)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This is long overdue. To read the pro-dock arguments you could be excused for believing that the whole thing will miraculously spring up overnight with no disruption to everyday activities.

    Taking the environmental considerations apart the assessment that has been missing to date is the one that looks at how three years of major construction work in the island’s capital will impact both stayover tourism and the cruise arrivals.

    It seems reasonable to expect that at some point during the build the work will be sufficiently disruptive to force the cruise lines to revise their itineraries (as they have at other destinations) due to construction work. The problem then is that, as history shows us, CIG’s ability to bring any major project in on time and on budget is something rather less than zero. If that happens here how long will the cruise lines wait for things to settle down before they make those changes permanent?

    I’ll give you a simple scenario – The project kicks off next year with a completion date sometime in 2019 but fouls up. The cruise lines have already drastically reduced arrivals so the people now pushing the dock are really getting hit where it hurts them most – in the pocket. What do expect them to do next? Having given the project vocal support but not put one penny of their own money into it they’ll be screaming at CIG for compensation.

    Three years is a long time in the tourism industry. I’ve seen major resorts built from nothing in that sort of timescale and I’ve also seen them go from boom to bust in a similar period. Whether we like it or not Cuba is opening up and when it comes to major construction projects they don’t mess around – check out Mariel. If the Cuban market, as a number of cruise lines are expecting, opens up next year by 2018 we’ll not only be competing with a major cruise port in Havana but several other destinations (probably self-contained resorts) round the country.

    This project is now way too late to be feasible. It should have been started 15 years ago when the first outline plans were drawn up. Trying to push it through now is a bit like reinventing the wheel – it isn’t going to work.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Unna fool bad. You think this is really about the environment? You done let that so called environmentalist group pull wool over ya eyes. If they care so much how come it only cares about stopping a dock so the tender runners can keep making millions. How its mainly a big group of expat divers. how come most of those companies only hire expats. I never met a Caymanian dive master have you? This is only about their business.

    • Cass says:

      So you never knew Bob Soto or Peter Milburn?

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s mainly a group of expat divers operating an industry here because few Caymanians want to be part of a “feeder” business that caters to the tourism business and requires 70+hour work weeks. The dive industry promotes 1,000’s of rentals of hotel rooms and condos, for which the dive industry gets a very small amount of income from it. Dive people do it because they love it. We have tried to get more Caymanians involved but few want to invest the time, money, and effort to become a dive professional. Our company has been offering free divemaster internships for a long time, with the company bearing the expense yet there have been no takers to become a professional dive instructor. The Bob Soto’s and Peter Milburn’s of this island never became wealthy from their dive businesses but have time and time again proved that they loved Cayman and the marine environment. Not many others (other than those same dive professionals you denigrate) can say that they truly care about the fragile marine environment here.

      • Anonymous says:

        I wouldn’t go self-proclaiming the Dive companies as God’s gift to earth or Cayman just yet.

        I also have to agree with at least the one point made above that I have never heard any advertised efforts to pull young Caymanians into the dive industry. Many of the (smaller) water sports and fishing charter operations are staffed by Caymanians. I can’t imagine that the lure of these jobs are any less or harder than diving jobs and see no reason why there should be so few Caymanians in an industry that appears to create such passion for their work as you describe.

  3. Divers Dreaming says:

    LOL, you can’t even dive the Balboa 90% of the year because the tenders are running over top of it. The only way you can dive it is on a Sunday or some nights. To be honest, I don’t even know if it is legal to dive the balboa because you’re not supposed to drop anchor and trust me there is no dive mooring there.

    • Anonymous says:

      When you start your point with LOL you lose all credibility.

      • Anonymous says:

        Nah man, I agree with them. You never here about nobody going to balboa. Before this whole thing started I had never heard of it before. That’s why they laughing.

        • Doris Day says:

          The Balboa was always on the harbour glass bottom boat tour route though. You might be too young to know that.

    • George Ebanks says:

      The question is this. Indeed it is the only question to ask and IT HAS to be answered before entertaining much more debate on this matter. It is this:- Do we, as a first class tourist destination ( both stay over and cruise) wish to divorce ourselves from the cruise tourism part of our industry( which employs some 3600 persons currently and injects some $70 million in salaries into our economy annually and brings over 1.9 persons to our shores, again annually!) and stay with 300,000 that fly in via aircraft?
      That is the ultimate question.
      And coupled to that is this also. Do you wish to witness the certain economic demise of our only capital city Georgetown?
      Let’s make Little Cayman and perhaps even Cayman Brac our national declared “diving Mecca” and use the new turbo prop plane to fly each and every dive enthusiast to those two small Islands, with their pristine dive sites and ensure that economic prosperity continues and that Grand Cayman fuels it.

      We gotta do something people!
      Sitting on our arses while other destinations enhances their operations and facilities is a dead- end option.

  4. Captain Planet says:

    The wreck of the balboa is probably one of the best dives I’ve done on this island…

  5. Gerry Mandering says:

    Even the dimmest bulb in the room can see that this over the top scheme to sell more t-shirts to ambulatory cruisers simply does not meet any economic smell test.

    The PPM legacy is forever tarnished with the crazy school projects last time around. Do they really want to live in perpetual infamy by diving into this mother of all white elephants?

    • Tim Knows Best says:

      Come on now, coupled with an Ice Palace this has all the workings of the greatest legacy project of all time.

      • Final Countdown says:

        Only if they go all in and build it in the shape of an aircraft carrier so that it can replace ORIA. Might as well build a suspension bridge to Cuba as well so the cruisers can make more use of local taxis.

  6. Anonymous says:

    What the EAB need to realize is that there are elements on this island that really do not concern themselves with environmental problems resulting from the cruise ship berthing facility. Of course they would never be that honest as they are quite clever in the development of this project but the fact remains.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Government is doing the right thing. They are staying silent on the project until they get all of the information in. They are gathering information (OBC, EIA). They are letting their technical staff (EAB) review the report(s) and advise them. They have time to review their assumptions and broaden their considerations (update of OBC, consideration of social costs, as mooted by EAB) before they make a decision. An informed decision.

    Considering that ‘we’ complained of previous governments charging ahead without due diligence (or trying to) and running up costs for no results I find it unfortunate people want this government to ‘make a decision’ without giving all of the information due consideration.

  8. Anonymous says:

    LOL. Now even the man made structures are threatened by the dock….

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