Absence of DoE stumps minister’s panel

| 27/09/2018 | 193 Comments
Cayman News Service

Attendees at the tourism ministry’s port meeting

(CNS): Many questions posed by the public at Wednesday night’s meeting about the controversial cruise berthing facility related to the environment, as well as who is bidding and who is paying. But the panel assembled by the tourism ministry were, in many cases, stumped by the questions. In a meeting lasting five hours, dozens of the more than 400 people who attended were seeking answers that were not provided, as the decision by the tourism ministry to remove the department of the environment from the steering committee and have no representative from that agency at the meeting left attendees frustrated.

Alongside Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell, Chief Officer Stran Bodden, Acting PACI Director Joseph Woods, Cayman Turtle Centre Managing Director Tim Adam, and Max Jones and Peter Granger from the Central Procurement Office were joined by two representatives from the cruiselines, David Candib from Carnival and Miguel Reyna from Royal Caribbean — which proved controversial because both of those companies are involved in a consortium bid that has made it to the final three.

The former chair of the National Conservation Council, Christine Rose Smyth, made her skepticism of the minister’s claims about caring for the environment clear when she pointed to comments made by the premier about the National Conservation Law being ridiculous and plans to gut the legislation, which has still not been fully implemented. She said government had failed to implement the marine conservation enhancements and misused the Environmental Protection Fund, which is made up of money taken from tourists, including cruise visitors.

Smyth raised a number of questions about the impact on reefs and what she called the “poster child for failed coral relocation” in Falmouth, Jamaica, where a cruise pier project has decimated the marine habitat and the local people have failed to see any benefit. But the panel fell far short of addressing the concerns.

Katrina Jurn, another environmental expert and a leading activists involved in the call for a referendum, as well as a cross-section of people involved in the tourism industry had concerns about the environmental damage. But most questions were left hanging, as the panel members conferred and chatted among themselves without coming up with answers.

On a number of occasions, Jones and Granger hastily sought to find answers as they thumbed through the original EIA published more than three years ago relating to an entirely different design. Claims by the representatives of the procurement office that the final preferred bidder will take responsibility for mitigating the environmental damage and undertaking all of the necessary studies created further concerns.

Questions about how the silt and sediment will be managed and monitored, not just throughout the construction but also from the arrival and departure of the mega ships for the life of the development, were not addressed. Jones and Granger appeared to indicate that environmental concerns would be monitored and strict protections would be part of the conditions for a contract, but there was no indication that the government has much of an idea how badly the wider marine environment will be impacted.

People openly expressed frustration about the presentation before the Q&A session, which they believed lacked substance and proved to be a repeat of the minister’s speech in the Legislative Assembly earlier this month, a revisit of the history of the process over the last five years and some promotional soundbites from the cruise lines. Audience members said on a number of occasions they had come to the meeting to hear the facts “but we are left frustrated” because question had not been answered.

Who is going to do the project and how it will be paid for were among other poignant questions that were left unanswered, as Bodden insisted that naming the bidders would “compromise the process”, but there was no explanation why simply identifying the bidders would do that.

Johann Moxam, one of the co-coordinators of the call for the referendum, pressed for details on the economics and questioned why the cruise lines were on the panel when they are both involved in a consortium bid known as Verdant Isle, which CNS understands includes local general contractor McAlpine and a well known international marine engineering firm.

Despite demands from members of the audience, who pointed out that public money will ultimately finance this project, the ministry refused to answer questions on bidders and the financing model. The minister also refused to say how much over the $200 million estimate or “the range of potential costs” the government is prepared to go to and still press on with the project, as he simply seemed unaware of a significant amount of important details about the project.

The estimated price tag is understood not to include any of the issues relating to environmental mitigation, the necessary geological and environmental studies that still must be conducted, or the proposed coral relocation.

The question of how, given the company’s global reputation, China Harbour Engineering Company has found itself on to the list of the final three bidders was also a place where the government did not want to go, even though several people pressed the issue.

Mervin Smith, an unsuccessful West Bay candidate at the last election, was one of several pushing the panel to explain how a government that says it has the best interests of the people at heart was prepared to allow them to bid. But Bodden repeatedly insisted that the panel would not answer any questions about the bidding process or the bidders involved, though they did not deny that CHEC is on the short list.

The details of how the project will be financed were also unexplained, with the minister and his chief officer pointing to the final part of the bidding process as the time when the actual financing model, including the rearrangement of fees, will be calculated to cover the cost of the project.

The cost was raised by a number of younger audience members, who drove home the point that they will be the ones paying the fees and taxes of the future to pay for it, even as government was failing to demonstrate where the benefits were.

Although very little new information emerged at the meeting, there were some shifting justifications which did not go unnoticed by the audience. The government has persistently stated that the main motivations are accommodating the future class of mega cruise ships so the cruise lines don’t drop Cayman from their itineraries, and keeping the ships here longer and increasing passenger numbers.

But given the arrangement of the piers and the small number of large cruise ships that will be plying the Caribbean over the next decade, it appears that the government is actually seeking to achieve similar visitation numbers as those we have at present but with less ships.

Also, recent claims by Kirkconnell during the LA debate earlier this month that ships could stay for as much as eight hours was reduced to five hours. And the panel struggled to explain why the outline business case clearly states that having berthing facilities will not reduce the time it takes to get people on and off the ship as it does currently with the tendering while claiming that the passengers will be onshore for at least an hour longer.

Several people who make their living from tourism, including cruise tourism, raised concerns about the way the cruise lines treat independent tour operators, now cutting the margins and taking the bulk of the profit. It was clear some smaller operators believe that if the cruise lines secure a stake in the project, things will get worse for them.

Some audience members accused the cruise lines of bullying with their demands for the piers. Information supplied by Joseph Woods that between 90-97% of cruise passengers currently disembark and that the cruise lines continue to come to Cayman because of passenger satisfaction served to illustrate that there is little room for the Cayman Islands tourism product to grow even with the pier development.

The loss of watersports business in the harbour was also queried by several people, as it is estimated more than $9 million per year will be lost from snorkeling, diving, boat and submarine trips in the harbour, as well as the loss of businesses in the footprint and the detrimental impact on the restaurants and bars around the edge.

How the government plans to meet the infrastructure needs, how it will tackle the seasonality and the overcrowding that the increase in numbers will cause, the contradictory claims over the environment, the lack of detail on who will benefit, the type of jobs it will create, how the three year construction period will be managed, as well as the environmental and economic questions were not properly answered, as the government representatives were either unable or unwilling to address the people’s concerns

Check back to CNS for more from the meeting.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Business, development, Local News, Tourism

Comments (193)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anonymous says:

    Without its natural environment intact, just what would people come here for? Certainly not to see lovely concrete piers. The environment affects EVERYBODY’s future. To go ahead before being 100% certain is like bungee jumping without checking the knot. One mistake and the whole game is over. Forever.

    26
    2
    • Anonymous says:

      Totally correct. You can always revisit the port in the future but you can’t so easily revisit the environment after it has been destroyed, taking our tourism industry with it. Without coral, fish, diving and beautiful beaches, we have to accept that we are just a small rock with areas of swamp, mosquitos and an elite financial services industry that much of the western world is aiming its sights on. The cruise executives say they come to Cayman because the customers demand it. We ought to be very clear just why they demand it and then treasure it. Pretty sure it isn’t the shops (which are the same across the Caribbean). What they come for is our most treasured asset – the environment.

      4
      2
  2. Anonymous says:

    I just want to know the full economics of the project. I cannot understand how anyone can know it is a good idea without the most basic facts of the project. For those who support the port without that information, is there any price at which point you would oppose the project? Would you like to know if it will in fact go over that number? I mean we are hearing costs anywhere from 200M to 800M. Do you think it will be a good deal for the Island at everything up to 800M?

    Remember it wasn’t that long ago, we were under threat of having direct taxation pushed on us because of our poor financial state. We have recovered well from that (and I applaud the CIG for that). Please lets not get back to that point!!!!

    40
    4
    • Anonymous says:

      I am a Caymanian who has never understood the eternal fear we seem to have of direct taxation

      Everyone else on earth manages to survive with direct taxes, I am sure we would too,
      we might as well be paying taxes with our high cost of living

      Plenty of people around the world are paying taxes and doing MUCH better off than we are let’s be real

      3
      23
      • Anonymous says:

        Conceptually it is possible. However, depending on implementation could also be the end of our financial sector. Also, collection duty under the current system is REALLY simple. Any other direct taxation system would require an entirely new CIG bureaucracy. To try to properly calculate and collect the taxes. Remember our gov cannot even collect garbage fees, so you can just imagine how well that would work!!!!

        13
      • Anonymous says:

        You ARE paying taxes. But we are taxed on what we consume, not what we earn.

        13
      • Cindy says:

        I agree, implement income tax and take away this current facade of taxes that are killing the poor people.

        4
        13
      • Anonymous says:

        Actually the rest of the world DOESN’T survive very well. In Cayman, if Government wants to spend more, they have to help create more. Direct taxation allows Governments to completely mismanage the economy with impunity and then just adjust taxes to compensate. They wildly spend on unaffordable but politically popular things… and the public pays. Be careful what you wish for.

        14
      • Anonymous says:

        Go chat with an American and then get back to me. This was a clueless comment when faced with the reality of what taxes bring.

        2
        1
      • Anonymous says:

        Be prepared for a mass exodus if direct taxation was even thought about. The finance industry, which runs this island, would be on the first plane out of here. There would be a glut of rental properties. The 2nd hand car market would collapse. The better bars and restaurants would die on their feet. Fosters, Kirks and Hurleys would end up like corner shops. But we could all drink at Archies and eat at KFC and Subway.

    • Anonymous says:

      It is fantasy to think we are in good financial shape when unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities are estimated (by Compass) at almost a Billion. If these were disclosed, our credit downgrade would force us to default on the outstanding debt coming due next Nov 2019, and it would not be renewable above junk. Add to that, another $50mln just to finish the JGHS that PPM started in 2007, by new target date 2022! We don’t have cash for any of this, and the pier won’t save us. Dart is biding their time to state their terms when the time is right.

      19
      • Anonymous says:

        Not saying we are in great position. However, we have certainly made good improvements from the darkest days. I of course would still like to see MUCH more payment of debt and saving for future obligations. That is a key driver for my apprehension on the port project as it certainly will be the largest public financial spent in the countries history and I’m keenly concerned if it will provide sufficient value for that cost and if the funds could be better used in strengthening our financial standing.

        I don’t know the answer, but would REALLY like enough information released so an informed opinion could be formed.

    • Anonymous says:

      @12.14pm The minister has said around $200million.The only persons throwing around those big numbers are the ones against the port.

      1
      8
    • nauticalone says:

      And let’s don’t forget we had qualified professionals like Ministers Archer and Panton improving our finances then. Now?….

  3. washed up says:

    So, some driftwood, like you, support the cruise berthing facility. Some don’t. What is your point?

    7
    18
  4. Anonymous says:

    Would the Minister be able to point us in the direction of an example in which the environmental impact was less than initially anticipated?

    31
    1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Please support independent journalism in the Cayman Islands