By Rory McDonough
There was a large turn out on Tuesday, 9 June for the Public Consultation of the current development plan for the extension of George Town’s port and cruise berthing facilities. There was a wide range of public representation – from George Town waterfront business owners, tour guides and operators, concerned locals, as well as many from the dive industry. The presentation of the Environmental Statement, a culmination of ten months of data gathering in cooperation with an Environmental Assessment Board consisting of the Department of Environment (DoE), the Department of Tourism, The Department of Planning, the National Museum, the National Roads Authority and the Port Authority with Gina Ebanks-Petrie of the DoE as its head, was transparent and thoroughly evaluated the pros and cons of the currently suggested development.
The representative of the development company- Baird Engineering- commissioned to lend its expertise to the project, Mr Dave Anglin, presented a comprehensive slide show that included the Environmental Impact Assessment’s findings, the negative impacts the development would have on the Marine biodiversity, the tourism that would be generated, and George Town’s current infrastructure and traffic. Also included were mitigation techniques such as the previously announced movement of the famous George Town reefs and dive sites.
The positive impacts of this development were primarily socio-economic, with the promise of increased business for Waterfront restaurants and tours as well as providing employment- and a potential increase of 1,000 full time jobs on the new port, in its construction and operational usage.
The development totals 7.7 acres of reclaimed land with two piers 100 feet long and 60 feet wide. A development of this size would require 23 acres of George Town harbour to be dredged, with half of the dredged material to be used as landfill for the reclamation and the rest to be offloaded into the water. The sediment that would be kicked up in such an operation was accounted for in the EIA, stating that the surrounding reefs that were not dredged would be severely stressed, fragmented or destroyed by the increased sediment in the water. As a mitigation method for such destruction, it was proposed that the other 20 or so acres of surrounding reef be ‘relocated’; however there was no guarantee that there would be ‘no net loss’, according to Mr Anglin.
Indeed, it was questioned and discounted by many during the time allocated for questions from the public – including those still working on mitigating the ‘infinitesimally smaller’ damage done to the reef by a Carnival Cruise liner dropping anchor on the reef in George Town almost a half year ago. Listed in the negative environmental impacts where the destruction of the historic wreck of the Balboa, 15 acres of reef area, chronic degradation of a further 15-20 acres surrounding the project, 35-40% of reefs in GT destroyed, with Habitat fragmentation and reduced biodiversity.
The negative impacts of this development were not limited to the destruction of the Marine Biodiversity in the Harbour. Also included was the overall cost to the dive tourism industry on island – with conservative figures placed at $6.5 – $9 million CI dollars loss a year to the local dive industry. The Town’s infrastructure would also be affected, both in terms of the effectiveness of the Port to import and an increase in (the already chronic) congestion in George Town during the construction and revitalisation period. Along with the loss of jobs and profitability in the Dive industry, the seamen who traditionally ferried the Cruise passengers in and out will also be left out of work most of the year, having been made redundant by the piers.
Former Chamber of Commerce president Johann Moxam questioned the validity of such a development in relation to the recent passing of the National Conservation Law and also questioned the prudence of potentially limiting our port’s ability to import/export in terms of our competitiveness throughout the region. Mr Gerry Kirkconnell’s response was to laud the thoroughness of the process that had led to such a comprehensive report.
The construction of this development was said to take two and a half to three years at a cost of $150 million. Estimates of the income generated by this development during its operational phase ranged from a conservative CI $250 million to an optimistic CI $1 billion.
No doubt the debate between the environmental destruction, negative socio economic effects and the positives of potentially increased income for the island will continue to be held.