(CNS): The government has begun the search to find engineers to design the proposed cruise berthing facility in George Town. Despite a major divide within the community and after public consultations largely rejected the idea, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the government still considers the project a priority as the proposal was in the PPM manifesto, giving them a mandate from the people. With no certainty yet over how the very costly project will be financed, the tourism ministry said advertisements would begin appearing in the local and international print media Wednesday.
In a press releases Tuesday the ministry said it was acting on orders from Cabinet to move forward with discussions about strategy with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to engage cruise lines on the commercial terms regarding the proposed cruise berthing facility and review plans for the least possible environmental impact of the facility, including repositioning of the piers. Cabinet has, however, already accepted the Environmental Impact Statement for the project which outlines the extensive direct and indirect destruction of the reef system in and around the George Town Harbour.
Despite myriad unaddressed questions about how the cruise piers will impact the islands’ infrastructure and wider tourism product from a likely concentrated seasonal increase in passengers, as well as the financial implications for the public purse, the tourism minister is continuing to press ahead.
“My ministry continues to have productive discussions with cruise lines in relation to their involvement in the berthing facility and contact has been made with the FCO,” said Deputy Premier Kirkconnell. “This next step of civil engineering design works represents significant progress and is needed for the financing model of the cruise lines. The construction of a cruise berthing facility is a project that the Progressives campaigned on and pledged in our election manifesto to deliver for the people of the Cayman Islands.
“Government believes it has the mandate of the people to deliver on that pledge and this project is considered a priority,” Kirkconnell added, even though surveys and both public and private sector consultation results all indicated that the majority of people in the Cayman Islands do not support the proposed project. The Chamber of Commerce and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association have expressed their reservations, and the government’s own surveys found that the public was roughly three to one against.
Having already spent several million dollars of public cash, the minister is pressing ahead with the next step without any certainty that the UK will approve the project or that government will be able to secure the financing from the cruise lines without liability or upland development, which would undermine one of government’s main reasons for pursuing the costly and controversial project.
In order to negotiate with the cruise lines for a financing model, the ministry said it must first obtain detailed civil engineering designs that include costs to construct the cruise berthing facility, adding that it would keep the public informed as plans for the piers progress.