Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Thu September 24 2015

Cayman Port Project Pits Environmentalists Against Pro-Tourism Stakeholders

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | September 24, 2015

Cayman Port Project Pits Environmentalists Against Pro-Tourism Stakeholders

PHOTO: A Cayman Islands government official calls the cruise port development project’s impact on the local marine environment “extremely dire.” (photo courtesy of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism)

The Cayman Islands’ controversial cruise port proposal continues to pit tourism stakeholders against citizens and groups who oppose the project’s potential environmental impact.

Debate intensified this week as an environmental official of the pro-port government warned that the project’s environmental impact will be “extremely dire” even if planned mitigation measures are implemented.

Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Cayman Islands’ Department of Environment, issued a clear rebuke of the $150 million project in an interview with a public relations company hired by Save Cayman, a group of environmentalists and Cayman residents opposed to the cruise port project. The interview was first reported by the Cayman Compass.

Ebanks-Petrie said undue emphasis was being placed on mitigation procedures that would ostensibly reduce coral reef damage created during the construction of the port in George Town harbor, where the new facility would be built.

The mitigation measures were outlined in an environmental impact assessment (EIA) issued in June. A marine consulting firm hired as part of the project’s public review process said Wednesday that approximately one-third of the coral in the construction zone could be removed at a cost of $13 million.  

Ebanks-Petrie said project advocates seem to “take comfort from (the) mitigation options, but what is being missed is that the environmental study also assesses the effect of those measures, and the consultants judge that they will have little or no effect on reducing the severity of the impacts.”

She said the EIA states that mitigation measures would carry a “significant price tag.” More importantly, they would not prove effective in mitigating the effects of the reef damage. She said the government should scrap the cruise port plan and instead enhance its existing cruise ship facilities. “Our view is that a scheme of appropriate land side enhancements would offer the best solution,” she said.

Ironically Ebanks-Petrie’s view contrasts with that of her government. Cayman Islands government officials led by Moses Kirkconnell, the country’s deputy premier and tourism minister, are strong supporters of the project. 

Predictably pro-port advocates, who mainly represent land-based retailers and tour providers tied to the island’s tourist trade, criticized Ebanks-Petrie’s statements. Chris Kirkconnell, an owner of the Kirk Freeport duty-free jewelry store in George Town and a spokesman for the pro-project group Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future said it was “inappropriate” for Ebanks-Petrie, a government official, to comment on the proposal through a firm hired by a private lobby group.

Kirkconnell, who is a third cousin of the Cayman Islands’ premier, said Ebanks-Petrie served as chair of the project’s environmental assessment board and had many opportunities to comment on the project. He said she demonstrated a “lack of objectivity” in relation to the project, according to the Compass report.

Ebanks-Petrie said she had simply responded to an interview request, adding that her job “is to advocate for the protection of the environment.”

Meanwhile the evaluation process continued Monday when chief project consultant PwC presented the government with “refined estimates” of the cost to build the cruise pier, the proposed funding method and the project’s potential positive and negative economic impact.

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