Minister prices port around $200M

| 07/09/2018 | 133 Comments
Cayman News Service

Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell and Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly outside the Aston Rutty Civic Centre at the Opening of the Legislative Assembly on Cayman Brac

(CNS): The proposed port development will cost around $200 million, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell told the Legislative Assembly on Thursday. Speaking during the debate on the opposition leader’s private member’s motion to put the proposed project to a national ballot, Kirkconnell did not mention the request for a referendum — the key part of the motion — but said government was not accepting it. He refuted accusations that the process regarding the cruise port development had not been transparent, but in a relatively long address revealed almost nothing new and failed to address some of the main concerns that have been dominating the recent debate.

Although he has been reluctant in the past to quote a price for the project, he told the LA that he estimated the cruise pier development will cost around $150 million, while the cargo enhancement will add another $40 million or more. While much bigger figures have been thrown around in the public domain, he said that he had “no reason to doubt the valuations”, which he said were done by experts. 

Kirkconnell did not indicate what additional costs may be involved in order to adapt the George Town infrastructure to meet the needs of the new facilities.

During his response to the motion calling for a referendum, he challenged allegations that he has any kind of conflict regarding the development. Kirkconnell said that he does not own or have any interest in any George Town businesses. 

The tourism minister related the history of the process he claimed his ministry had followed regarding the project since he took over the tourism portfolio in 2013. He repeatedly pointed to the findings in the environmental impact assessment that there was no significant risk to Seven Mile Beach, but suggested the rest of the environmental challenges were part of the balance the government had to strike between protecting natural resources and growing the economy.

He said he was aware that the local tourism sector was directly supported by the natural beauty of the Cayman Islands’ environment but said the “balance is our burden”. And he stuck to the line, despite questions about the veracity of the claim, that the economic benefits will outweigh the loss of marine habitat.

Kirkconnell claimed that thousands of Caymanian families depended directly on cruise tourism and said taxi drivers frequently tell him that they don’t care what those who are objecting to the project think because they “need the piers to put their kids through school”.

A repeated theme was that the government had contracted or employed the absolute best experts in the world to do the reports, business cases and assessments relating to the project, although that was challenged by opposition members during the debate. The minister insisted that all along decisions were made based on the very best economic and scientific advice.

He failed to address questions about why a new EIA has not been completed since the design change. He also suggested that the Department of Environment had been removed from the steering committee because the process was now dealing with different issues, but if advice about the environment was needed, they could still call on the department.

The minister made some confusing comments about Grand Cayman’s capacity for visitors when he spoke about the arrival of 20,000 people in one day. He suggested that they would be transported by different means of transport, but with the piers they would be here for double the time, so they would have more time to spread out to the eastern attractions.

He also spoke about the Cayman Turtle Centre not being at capacity, despite claims to the contrary in the National Tourism Plan by the Department of Tourism. One of the main issues that emerged from the plan was the management of guests, especially on mid-week busy cruise days, but the minster seemed unable to reconcile that challenge with his commitment to the berthing project. 

Kirkconnell repeatedly claimed that the mega cruise ships that will be plying the Caribbean routs in the future cannot be serviced by the tender boats. The issue, however, seems to be a matter of election by the cruise lines not to tender, rather than because the ships cannot be tendered.

The minister said that if the government does not pursue this project then the sector will shrink significantly and he asked how he would explain to 300 taxi drivers that only half of them are going to keep their jobs.

He said that the only reason why cruise numbers were as high as they are at the moment was because of the impact of the 2017 hurricane season on competitor destinations. Kirkconnell said that he was sure of the potential decline because the cruise lines had told the government that would be the case.

The minister also made the claim that he had been transparent about the process and had “communicated with the public at every major milestone”. He said he had responded to questions and articles, held numerous public meetings, had given updates in budget speeches, and gone on talk radio shows.

However, CNS can confirm that our requests for specifics regarding the port project have consistently been ignored.

The minister stated that the design-build-finance model that government was pursuing would not cost the public purse anything. He said that it was a typical type of financing model for a public-private partnership used to fund large-scale infrastructure projects but it also ensured that the people of Cayman would still manage the facility, to protect jobs, and would eventually be the owners. 

He revealed that the final bids for the tender were due by November and at that point he would be much better informed about the financial model as well as the final design. He admitted that he really could not say what that ultimate design will be but said professionals had been hired to deal with it.

As he stated that the government was not accepting the referendum motion, he said, “We cannot be scared of doing things,” adding that members had been elected to put infrastructure in place and give people an opportunity.

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Comments (133)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Austin must go! Enjoy your first and last time ever being elected! You sold out the people of the Cayman Islands for a dollar and you stand for absolutely nothing! People of Prospect please pay attention as he does not care about what is in your best interest but instead power and the mighty dollar has won him over. He can not be trusted to do what is best for Cayman and he must go in 2021! All concerned Caymanians that want to ensure the government is making the best decision for our country please sign the petition! At minimum we deserved to hear the full details and be provided with facts to make the right decision and a referendum is needed. We deserve the right to be part of the decision making for such a large project. It is our democratic right and we wish to be heard PPM aka the “coalition” government!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The LEAKS have started!:

    According to reliable sources, the port will no longer be developed at the originally proposed site of Hog Sty Bay.

    Actual location will be the Red Bay location and will include some degree of cable car transport.

    Cargo facility will be upgraded at current location.

    So far no update on whether new EIA plan has been performed for location change.

    Justification for change and proposal seems to rest on accompanying requirement to alleviate congestion in GT and improve public transport network for all of Grand Cayman.

    • Anonymous says:

      You can only improve traffic congestion with the public transportation that is world class. Cayman is 50 years behind that and would require an army of consultants and experienced drivers. Mini bus and taxi drivers are maniacs.

  3. Anonymous says:

    poor people can pay for dock…just tax them more and build more sidewalks out at s sound…the rich really need it – ok…got it.. ok????????

  4. Anonymous says:

    Minister Kirkconnell, please stop using the taxi drivers as an excuse to build the piers. There is no guarantee that taxis earn more money with an in infux of tourists, what you actually get is more taxi drivers, so the same earnings stay the same.

    Àlso, what about the water activities businesses that will lose out when the piers are built? Why dont you talk about them?

    Whats that? You think there will be more tourists which will mean more tourism businesses being created? So how does that help existing businesses??

    Your logic isnt logical and your sense doesnt make sense.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is it true that 300 taxi drivers including public transport only get 3% of the money? they only get $5 million of $170 million spent? so where is the big money going? not been spent in my shop. and there will be less % for taxis and transport when these richer passengers arrive. they buy no cheap stuff either. better to build a casino and more hotels and we all make more money. stop depending on those cruise lines because they only in it for themselves. if they threaten to pull out let them go.keep the beach and corals and reefs safe because thats all we got to keep the tourists coming. that’s all we really own.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I have a few solutions:

    1. Move the Cargo Port to Spots Dock or Breakers as originally intended. There’s no reason to have them on the waterfront, especially since they will be able to dock more often on the south side of the Island which will improve delivery times. Moving the cargo port out of town is also an incentive to complete the east/west arterial extension due to the additional traffic. It will also create more space for duty-free shopping, a unique park/boardwalk and road expansion on the waterfront. This is a no-brainer/win-win for everyone. Let’s do it!

    2. Build a cable stayed bridge ‘over’ the reefs so there’s less dredging and debris and complete access for dive boats. There are 2 ways to do this:

    – The bridge can be attached to a floating platform over the Cayman Drop-off where it’s deep enough for the ships to dock. or;

    – Instead of extending the current platform, split it in two. Build a section out in the Bay past the reefs (no damage) and connect them by the cable stayed bridge which does not require any pylons (no dredging).

    Do your research! It can work.

    3. Activate the “Shipwreck City” plan that DoT had many years ago to offset any loss in revenue due to damaged coral reefs. Invest millions into the promotional campaign for Shipwreck City and pay “Caymanian” consultants to manage the design of this new venture. Start by collecting old boats, flotsam and driftwood from local yards that can be used to decorate the ocean floor in a unique fashion. Hire renown sculptors such as Ed Barbier to create unique eye candy elements (eg. giant squids, crabs, mermaids, etc). Also, Shipwreck City can be laid out like a town with driftwood street signs, solar-powered street lights for night dives and other unique features. If done properly, it would be the only attraction of it’s kind in the world (except for the legendary Bermuda Triangle)!

    4. Build a barcadere at the Catboat Club for catboat enthusiasts and to boost tourism. Include a boathouse/workshop where tourists can view new catboats being built. Include a gallery/mini maritime museum for additional revenue and promotion. Sell or raffle the new catboats as an export business (owner pays shipping fees).

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you seen how rough the sea gets south-side? I live there and can tell you now it’s too rough round Breakers to accommodate cruise ships most of the time.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not cruise ships on the south side, bobo! Just cargo.

        Give the cruisers the whole Port Authority and Royal Watler compound.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Try to look at this in terms of value for money. We are planning to spend $9 million to eradicate green iguanas and $8 million to eradicate the Dengue mosquito. For only $200 million this project will eradicate a whole ecosystem.

  7. Ron Ebanks says:

    I wonder if the 300 taxi drivers that Mr Kirkconnell mentioned about , if that 300 number wasn’t the 300 kirks employees ? but just using taxi drivers to stress his point .

    • Anonymous says:

      Ron, there are over 500 taxi drivers on Grand Cayman but just 300 that work on the dock. Most drivers average CI$50,000 gross per year per for a 10 hour day. Unless they don’t stop and eat lunch or dinner. Remember its a business, gas, car insurance,tires batteries, body work paint or car loan and licenses etc. The more you work doesn’t guarantee more money, there are seasons.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Notes 1. This is the same Minister who ‘priced’ the airport re-development project at $55 and we now now that has been gross exceeded.

    Note 2. Austin is only doing his job. As Whip his official function is to press forward the Government’s agenda among skeptics within and outside the House. Of course he has to promote the port expansion, what else would he do?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes actually thinking and doing what is correct and best for the country plays no part in Austin doing his job as whip. He is just following orders. A lame excuse that has been used throughout history.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I believe Moses has a farm of Money Trees growing in his back yard. He must, because with all of this “non issue” money spending and overspending for the Airport and now the Cruise Port, he’s clearly producing the money himself. I wish we could’ve voted this fool out — he’s running CAL, Airport and now most of tourism’s finances into the ground.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is he who forgot to add Jetways?
      I got drenched disembarking the JFK flight recently, CAL.
      I was embarrassed for the Tourists. Oh my.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, he was proponent in not having them — even though large banks and companies offered to fund most of not all of the jetways in exchange for having their advertisements in them (like any other airport)

        • Anonymous says:

          I too got soaked while standing in line to board Cayman Airways. The best improvement to the Airport would be to have walk ways to the planes. I am sure that all the airlines would make serious contributions.

          • Anonymous says:

            You’re right. The jetways don’t have to be typical. They could be a simple extension of the walkways but much taller and have a fixed docking station for passengers to embark on a regular basis.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Now I understand why Public transportation would never become a reality in this country. Taxi drivers won’t allow it! You can’t make it up.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Wow…taxi drivers! Really!? How can one put a price on the fragile ecological diversity of Cayman? I know that anecdotal evidence is often deemed the lowest form of evidence, but I had a friend who’s mother is a taxi-driver and when he SHOWED me (not told me) that she makes just over US$10,000.00 per month (yes folks, that’s not a typo) I initially thought that I was in the wrong profession. She lives like a pauper and sends the money to where she’s from as remittances. My friend also tells me of Taxi Drivers who work for 5-6 months a year and are able to take the other half year off. Don’t be fooled Cayman – there are many taxi-drivers who make as much if not more than our MLAs – probably even old Moses himself.

    I as a voting Caymanian am against not only the port, but the manner in which this whole process is unfolding. Why can’t Moses put the port in the Brac? I think they could use a little more development (not to mention excitement).

  12. Anonymous says:

    $100 million less to build now?
    Why? Who? WHAT?

    • Jotnar says:

      You missed the bit where he said it’s actually free because the successful bidder will pay for it! So it doesn’t matter how much it costs to build. Passing over the fact that according to the Premier we will only know the final cost once the winning bid is selected in November, so whatever Moses “valuations “ say is irrelevant, and that it is paid by the tax payer in terms of surrendering port fees to the developer.

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