As the Election’s Office verification process passes 88% and the first constitutionally enshrined people-initiated referendum becomes a certainty, much of the critical data Caymanian voters will need to be able to truly make an informed decision, has still not been made public by the Government. The Government should release any undisclosed information that they do hold immediately, and the referendum date should be scheduled to allow for the completion of and public consultation on the updated Environmental Impact Assessment and updated Final Business Case reports, to allow citizens of our Islands to make a fully informed decision on this matter of national importance.
This 3-part letter seeks to highlight some, but not all, of the numerous significant and unquantified risks where mitigation strategies could be (i) high cost (ii) unidentified (iii) based on unreliable data or (iv) subject to environmental uncertainty associated with this project (Information has been obtained by CPR from publicly available reports found on the websites for the Departments of Tourism (DoT) www.supportourtourism.com and Environment (DoE) www.doe.ky.).
1.1. Berthing facility design
Following the preferred bidder announcement on 29th July 2019, no design has been made public showing numerical data to quantify the direct impact of the footprint including dredge area, concrete area and location relative to the surrounding marine ecosystems of coral reefs, hard pan & sandy bottom habitat, and historic ship wrecks.
1.2. Marine Habitat loss
The 2015 design, which Environmental Impact Assessment (the “EIA” or “Baird Report”) was conducted on, proposed direct dredging involving permanent and irreversible removal of 15 acres of coral reef and total dredging of 32 acres of seabed. A footprint with 20% less dredging directly excavates 12 acres of invaluable marine habitat, 25.6 acres of seabed in total, in addition to indirect lethal and sublethal impacts on surrounding reefs.
Lethal and sub-lethal sedimentation from (a) dredging during (i) construction (ii) periodically during operation as well as (b) Cruise Ship thrusters during operation, will impact marine ecosystems approximately 220m surrounding the immediate dredged area (Baird Non-Technical Summary Section 14, illustrated in Figure 14.1). The public needs to have information on the design to see how extensive this indirect negative consequence will be.
1.4. Water clarity
Dredging of limestone and coral material creates milky white ‘clouds’ in the water column clearly observable at other port locations around the Caribbean. Cayman is famous for our enviable, over 100ft visibility, of water clarity. George Town Harbour’s breath-taking crystal-clear aquamarine waters are the first view of Grand Cayman for both air and cruise arrivals. This will be lost forever, replaced by a cloudy murky sea we are more familiar with only during Nor’westers (but without the high waves). Are we prepared for this irreversible loss and the immediate disappointment of our visitors?
1.5. Air pollution
Air Pollution risks, monitoring and mitigation have not been highlighted by the government despite an entire section of the BAIRD report dedicated to air quality (Appendix G). Perhaps this is unsurprising as the Cayman Islands has no numerical standards on ambient air quality. There will be significantly more air pollution as a result of ships closer to shore and increased road traffic. Does government have any pollution mitigation strategies? How is government planning to prevent health related illnesses from increased air pollution? Will govt provide better health insurance over and above the SHIC plan? Is it fair that those working and living in the immediate George Town Harbour area are exposed to these toxic fumes?
1.6. Wave heights
Low-lying George Town residents and merchants risk an increased susceptibility of storm flooding once the natural occurring coastal coral reef defences are permanently destroyed. Seawalls are costly, unsightly and protection is not guaranteed.
Parts 2 and 3 will examine the proposed coral relocation, socio-economic considerations, job opportunities, infrastructure impacts, carrying capacity and the financing model.
In conclusion, we wish to emphasise the importance of ensuring the referendum question chosen by Cabinet fairly reflects the original petition wording and is clear, easy to understand for voters and ensures fairness and objectivity.
Linda Clark, FCCA, MSc Marine Environmental Management
On behalf of CPR Cayman
Figure 14.1: Estimated Spatial Extern of Direct and Indirect Impact Zones on “Coral Reef Habitat”