Posted on February 15, 2023
(CNS): The Cayman Islands Government has taken the first step in the process to either expand the existing cargo port, which would involve dredging George Town Harbour, or create a new facility elsewhere. Minister Kenneth Bryan revealed Monday that a strategic outline case on the issue had been accepted by Cabinet. He said the current port is stretched and within ten years it will not be able to handle the expected level of imports, given the growing population, and the increasing size of cargo ships that will no longer be able to berth at the current dock.
Speaking at a press conference, where he also announced Cayman Airways’ relaunch of the Panama route and plans for the government to pull out of the beauty pageant business, Bryan said the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands was about to embark on a request for proposals for financial consultants to do the outline business case, which is the next step in the process to advise the government on the best options.
After outlining the capacity problems the port authority is facing and the reasons for the expansion or relocation, Bryan said the issues had already been identified during the last administration’s discussions on cruise berthing.
The previous port authority director had also consistently sounded the alarm about the difficulties with cargo, given the size of the dock and the increasing amount of imports. The PPM administration used this as one of the justifications for the development of cruise berthing.
However, campaigners who were opposed to those facilities had argued that cargo facilities did not have to be tied to cruise facilities. The activists behind the campaign secured enough signatures for a constitutionally mandated people’s referendum, but there was a legal battle over how the government had attempted to manipulate the national vote, which was followed by the COVID pandemic. As a result, the ballot has still not taken place.
The PACT government has said that it does not intend to hold a national vote because it does not intend to build a cruise dock. But if this project requires dredging and a new dock, which were the main objections to the cruise facility, this administration could find itself required to put the question of this proposed project to the people.
“Even though the country has decided not to move forward with the cruise facility, we still have the pending capacity problems with the cargo port that will become more acute over time,” Bryan said. “By starting this process now, the government is proactively attempting to gather all of the necessary information so that informed decisions can be made to resolve this pending problem.”
He said the strategic case had identified the main options and calls for an expansion or an alternate location which he said were included in the report that was expected to be made public on Tuesday. He also said that once the outline business case is underway, there will be a public consultation process.
Bryan recognised the likely controversy to come, but said it was about future food security. “We have got to feed our people,” he said.
The strategic outline case described the need to expand the dock outward into the water and dredge inside the harbour or to move it to an entirely new location, the minister explained. “I know this is going to be a very sensitive topic,” he said. “But the right thing to do is talk about it now so we understand this is no longer about cruise passengers; this is now about being able to feed our children, ourselves, our people.”
According to the minister, the public will have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion about this proposed facility. However, he said that the CIG needed to start the process now because it could take as long as ten years. Bryan said he did not want to be the minister who identified the problem but didn’t do anything about finding ways to address it.