Chuckie faces port opposition

| 14/01/2009

(CNS): A public meeting organised to discuss the parameters of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regarding the potential redevelopment of the George Town Port revealed considerable opposition from the community for the project itself and concerns that Cayman is selling out to the cruise lines, forcing Charles Clifford, the Minister of Tourism, to defend the project. He said that no matter what was decided he knew there would be objections from somewhere. (Photo by Dennie Warren, Jr.)

Close to 200 people attended the meeting on Tuesday 13 January at the Family Life Centre on Walkers Road, which lasted late into the night. Although convened to take contributions to help the Department of Environment (DoE) determine the terms of reference for a comprehensive EIA, there were many present who questioned the need for the entire development in the first place.

The EIA is expected to inform the government what the costs of the development would be in terms of environmental damage, socio-economic impacts, quality of life issues and general pros and cons to the community. Following presentations by government and then an explanation of the EIA by CH2M Hill, the consultants chosen to conduct it, the floor was open for comment and question.

Its location, Cayman selling itself to cruise lines, the impact on stay-over tourists, the potential destruction of Seven Mile Beach and many other environmental concerns were all raised. A common proposal to address the issue of the cargo port being overburden because of the amount of aggregate going across it was the creation of a dedicated aggregate receiving area. However, the location any new cargo port became a key theme.

DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie, who chaired the meeting, said that the DOE’s remit in regards to the EIA had been to look at the impact of the development in the given location, which she said the ministry has indicated was at the current port site. She said comments from the public indicated that the South Sound/ Red Bay area and other locations had considerable support. The ministry must therefore indicate if the EIA could widen to look at the issue of location.

“It is clear people want alternative locations to be examined,” she said.” That has to go back to government as we were told the general area was fixed.”

Clifford, who is also responsible for the environment, said that we should not fool ourselves as the port needed to be upgraded. “No matter where we propose to put it there will be objections,” he said, reminding the audience of the objections to the existing port back in the 1970s. “There will be pros and cons wherever it goes.”

Marilyn Connolly, a well-known local activist concerned with local heritage and environmental issues, noted that it seemed as though the government was asking the public what sort of ‘house’ it should build before it had established if the ‘house’ was wanted in the first place. She also requested the details of the MOU that the government signed in July with Atlantic Star, who are being cited as the potential developers of the port. She questioned how money could be found for the project when the George Town Primary School was struggling to find financiers. Connolly received wide applause for her questions and comments, and she raised the concern that the DoE has often been ignored when asked to advice on major projects.

“I understand the DoE is managing the EIA and I understand its voice is not often heard. It warned of increased hurricane damage as a result of over-development and it was ignored, despite being right. Can the department override the government decisions on this project?" she asked. Ebanks-Petrie made it clear that the DoE was managing the EIA and that its findings would be submitted to Cabinet, which would make the decision — not her department.

Walling Whittaker also questioned the need and therationale for the development and received wide agreement when he asked why the government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding for something not yet understood. “I am not satisfied that enough rationale has been put forward for this project,” he said. “Despite the cruise ship business being in decline, we are spending millions on this. I think we are doing it for Carnival Cruise Lines, but I think George Town is more important than Carnival.”

He begged the people in the room not to take the proposals lightly as there were many causes for concern, not least the impact on Seven Mile Beach and people’s homes in the area. “What are we selling out our country for?” he asked.

Clifford defended the rationale for the project, citing the new class of mega cruise ships that will not be able to tender, and the increasing levels of cargo and limited operations at the port. He said that Cayman could not afford to under-estimate the importance of the cruise sector or future demands at the port.

However, the objections continued as well as the argument that currently there are only two mega ships likely to hit the seas this year and that it was not a good enough reason given the detrimental impact the project could have on stay-over tourism business, which most agreed was more important, as well as the risk to Seven Mile Beach.  Clifford said again that if the EIA came back saying project would cause significant damage to Seven Mile Beach or increase George Town’s vulnerability to hurricanes, those would be show stoppers.

Many of the sea captains present said the proposals had flaws and that the location was certainly questionable. Captain Harris McCoy, one of the world’s most experienced merchant sea captains with more than fifty years captaining some of the biggest ships on the seas, offered Clifford some free advice when he said told him to scrap the project and look more closely at the South Sound/Red Bay location, which was more suitable for a cargo port.

It was also made clear that, to date, the government had not approached Cayman’s considerable body of very experienced merchant sea captains regarding the preliminary discussions over the port, and that the proposal for the development and its location came directly from the MOU partner Atlantic Star.

Community activists, candidates in the forthcoming elections, local politicians, including Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush, members of the dive industry, wider members of the public, as well as the sea captains, attended the meeting and many articulated a number of diverse objections to the entire project. There was, however, very little evidence of any support and no one spoke in favour of the government’s port proposal.

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  1. Red bay resident says:

    How dare anyone suggest further destruction of our Coastline How foolish can you get. why don’t we put the dock right off his residence in Northside and turn his house in to the Port authority office. The port is in the right position and expansion to the current facilities is the smartest enviromental option for these islands.

    The sneaky people buying up all the land in Half Moon Bay area also need to understand that  Caymanians are not fooled either and their agents need to stop getting on the talk shows pretending as if they care about our environment when they looking at their commisions.$$$$$ another Dolla Bill. Boy this place is headed down rapidly

    The politicians and the tribal monopoly supermacy Brigade (Gordon’s term not mind) are jockeying for financial position and the big PAY  DAY. I wondering if any of these wizards saw the recent confirmations hearings for Hilary Clinton for secretary of state in regards to her comments on Cuba. It is quite clear what is in store for our Tourism Industry so let them sit back and relax  "Don’t worry Be happy" We will return to the place where time forgot . I must admit that looks tempting to many who loved when only certain families especially those with money ruled the island.

    The process backwards is however frought with many many dangers and crime being one that few have the stomach for. A suggestion to those concern try and think about our childrens future? and how is it going to be paid for.

  2. Teresa says:

    While the topic of this news story and its implications on our environment are far more important than what we call our country’s leaders, I must agree that it IS very inappropriate to refer to the Honorable Charles Clifford as "Chuckie" in print (particularly a headline). Indeed, we are a small community wherein government offcials and the public mingle freely and comfortably; however, let us give respect where itis due. There is a time and a place for everything. A news headline is NOT the place!

    Nevertheless, I am a huge supporter of CNS and I always look forward to reading your stories. Keep up the good work!

  3. Anonymous says:

    This criticism of CNS is petty and totally beside the point.  All papers refer to Hon McKeeva Bush as ‘Mac’ – without criticism. Like Mac, people familiar with Minister Charles Clifford call him ‘Chuckie’.   I’d suggest we spend our time and other people’s with more important issues. Perhaps take this up with Government’s Protocol Officer if you’d like to pursue this. Or make a case for standardized formal reference to ALL individuals by the press.

     

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think it is very disrespectful for the Minister of Tourism to be referred to by a nick name. At least the LoGB and LoO are called by the first names. I expect better from CNS.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Regarding the new port facilities, to me one of the most unsettling facets of the proposed port development has little to do with the environment but has much significance to entire country. And yet, to my utter astonishment I have heard virtually no public comment on the matter: A private company is to own and operate (have essentially monopoly control of) the cargo port!

    Last year, Atlantic Star Limited (ASL) – a private company reportedly headed by Saudi Arabian-Caymanian businessman Fayed al-Rasheed – signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with government to develop a new cruise dock and a new cargo port. The terms of the MOU reportedly include provision for ASL to develop the cruise dock and cargo port separately. The cargo port is to be built on 9.5 acres of land already owned by al-Rasheed. Let me be clear on one thing: turning this into another "foreigner vs us" debate would be closed-minded, trite and pointless, and is not my intention. If the port was being sold to one of my 100% Caymanian pedigreed, "founding-father" forebears, I would not change my stance. For all I know Mr. al-Rasheed might be one of my "born-Caymanian" cousins with an Arab connection. But that is not germane to the issue, so please let’s not go there.

    Mr. Clifford has admitted that prior to signing the MOU, negotiations surrounding it were “kept under wraps” (I translate that as it was “kept secret from the public”). I ask: Why?

    Private ownership and operation of the island’s sole ocean cargo facility constitutes ownership of and a monopoly control over one of the country’s vital life’s blood arteries. The issue of environmental impact is important, however, in my opinion the matter of impact on the environment has received undue attention at the expense of another serious and fundamentally important issue. 

    We need to look long and hard at the idea of putting into private hands monopoly ownership and operation of our cargo port. This aspect of the port proposal should be the subject of an impact report in its own right prior to preceding any further. The majority of focus has been put on the cruise ship port and the matter of the cargo port has been minimized. Again: Why?

    We need to consider: What is the potential impact? What are the benefits? What are the threats? What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? What are the alternatives? Is this something that Caymanians – some of whom who are already bristling at the country being “sold out” for lucre’s sake – really want to happen?

    Mr. Clifford is reported in the press as saying, “Government… is not going to relinquish control of such key infrastructure”, adding, “We will remain in control, but, of course, the developer wants a return on his investment, and so we may take a different approach”. Mr. Clifford has proven to be expert at circumlocution and circuitousness, but this statement is a jewel of ambiguity. What exactly does he mean? Does anyone know? What is "a different approach"? How does he propose to “remain in control” of something that government does not even own?

    Another equally urgent question comes to mind: Why have the press and public made so light of so significant a proposal – one that seeks to privatise the cargo port? Lack of awareness? Indifference?

    A private company, Atlantic Star Limited, is to operate the cargo port as a for profit enterprise. The Port Authority operates as a government chartered authority and not necessarily for profit. By contrast, under the new proposal, when imported goods make it to market, yet another middleman has extracted his takings. Can we the people afford yet another profiteer lining his (already bulging) pockets with yet another markup on an already unbearably priced bag of groceries?

    Finally, we must ask: Can we trust our government to negotiate a fair monopoly agreement that will ensure the public is protected now and in the future? In light of past blunders by government in regard to negotiating monopoly operation of our utilities and fuel providers – without significant public awareness and input – my answer would be “No!”.

    It is said, “We fear that which we do not understand”. This applies here. I do not understand the agreement and until I do understand it I shall remain wary. Until there is full and satisfactory public disclosure of all the particulars of what is being proposed, I stand opposed to relinquishing the cargo port to private ownership for profit. There is a lot more than the environment at stake here.

     Hello? Anybody with me?

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for an extremely eloquent and easily understood explanation………with you all the way.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow, if you attended the recent meeting and came away with this impression that is amazing. It was stated that the MOU is an agreement to negotiate not to operate. My understanding is that, providing the project goes ahead, the developer would pay for the project to be built, the Port Authority would control & operate the facility and pay the "developer" the same way as they pay a "bank", if the Govt. had borrowed the funds, using some of the money collected in fees. Ultimately the facility will belong to the Govt. when the developer has been paid off as agreed under the negotiated development agreement.

  6. Anonymous says:

    As someone who attended this meeting I would not say that everyone was against the project. Some people actually spoke in favour of having a better port (cargo & cruise) facility. One point that was mentioned but appeared to be ignored by the vocal objectors, was that the number of cruise visitors would not increase because of the facility, but simply provide a more efficient and better experience for everyone (visitor & resident). This should lead to increased business for all concerned. Note that I am not concerned in this business.

    For both cargo & cruise, we should pay attention to the "Do Nothing" option that will also be outlined in the EIA report. If we tell our representatives to chose this option then we must be prepared to live with the results and explain to our descendants why this decision was taken if that does not turn out to be correct, e.g. "Why could you not see grandpa that we were going to need bigger ships to bring in our groceries when the population doubled?".

    I think that we should await the EIA report and then discuss this from an informed position, as opposed to public comments which end with "trust me" as if the speaker knows something the rest of us does not.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sadly the government doesn’t really seem to listen to the majority of the people it is meant to serve.  Of course there will always be opposition to change, however that is not something for elected officials to use to justify going against the will of the people.  The question is how much opposition:  when the number of those against a government project outweight the number of the for the project, the government needs to amend or stop the project from moving ahead.  The new port facility is too big for Grand Cayman and the Caymanian people know this.  A model was looked at in Mexico — Mexico is not a small island and has plenty of space to build resorts away from its terminal unlike the proximity between SMB (Cayman’s jewel) and the proposed new terminal.  In addition where are all these cruise visitors going to go?  Most are looking for a cheap beachfront where they  can bring their own cooler unlike stayover visitors who truly contribute to every level the the local economy.  The stay-over tourists are already feeling squeezed out by day visitors. 

    How many bad deals need to be made with the cruise lines — just look at the Turtle Farm debacle!  In addition the trend in the cruise industry is showing that those not looking for a cheap holiday want more exotic locations.  What happens when Cuba opens up to Americans and more the South American countries like Costa Rica become more accessible (especially on these bigger, faster ships)?  GC will be left with hideous scar on its beautiful coast that will be underused or useless unless the cruise lines and developers are forced to sign contracts and pay upfront for the decades it will cost for the economy and enviornment to heal,  if they ever do.  Mr. Clifford and his cronies will be long gone and sitting pretty on their little piece of paradise that will be well away from the mess they leave behind.  It seems that no matter what findings are made or how many protest, the project will go ahead.  Who elected Mr. Clifford into office — was it the overseas developers and CEO’s for the cruise line companies, or was it his fellow Caymanians.  To me it seems like the latter is the least of his concerns – which is very sad.  The multimillionaire developers will be gone elsewhere, the cruise ships will be sailing to more exciting destinations while the stay-over tourists will find places that cared about the marine environment and quality of life.  A final thought, crime went up in Cayman during the rebuilding period after Ivan when many outside workers came in.  What is being done to prevent this when a similar call will be made for less skilled workers for this project.  Where will the low income housing be, and who will pay for the other socio-economic costs that come with such a huge project?  Has Mr. Clifford factually addressed these side issues in port scheme, or does he feel that all that is necessary is to hide behind ignoring the opposition and sweeping their concerns away as unimportant with political doubletalk?

    • Anonymous says:

      As passionate and reasoned an argument that the comment above is, it still does not give the complete picture with regard to cruise tousirm and the Cayman Islands. The writer is obviously concerned and makes some very valid points, however what teh public also needs to know is;

      1. Cayman long ago lost the ability to be able to ‘choose’ not to welcome Cruise tourism as a source of income for the islands. What Cayman did not do though was manage this side of our tourism product and as such it was left to develop unchecked and this is partly why we find ourselves in the current state- with roads that are gridlocked, un-metered taxi drivers, unlegislated ‘tours’ and attractions, poor port facilities, over crowding etc. etc. What we should have done (and still clearly need to do) is forge sensible and meaningful relationships with the cruise lines so we can develop and maintain this sector in a sustainable manner.

      2. If Cayman cannot receive the two new mega ships due to launch in the next 2 years it is a massive loss of revenue for the islands as those ships will replace  ships that we currently see every week/fortnight. Therefore we not only loose potential revenue but we will loose current revenue.

      3. When Cuba opens up, if Cayman does not have meaningful relationships with the cruise lines that include long term contracts based on the realising of revenues invested in port development in Cayman then we will loose more ships and more revenue. However the cruise lines are no dummies- if they have investment in port infrastructure in Cayman we can be assured that their guests will be visiting us. We still have beautiful, safe, clean beaches and some world class duty free shopping (which is there because we see nearly two million cruisers a year, not because we see a quarter of a million stay over tourists a year, though they certinally benefit from it).

      I agree 110% that any development needs to be very carefully considered and thoughtfully done in order to preserve our beautiful beaches and our marine life, however we need to grow up and stop pretending that we can have our cake and eat it too, and that we have something in Cayman that is so compelling that the cruise lines will keep wanting to visit, despite our casual treatment of them and our inability to negotiate and plan properly.

       

       

  8. Anonymous says:

    Well, well, well the Honourable Member for Tourism being referred to simply as "Chuckie".  And let’s not get ahead of ourselves now, realizing that with past Government’s each one laying their own foundation by placing the "cart before the horse".