November 23, 2020

CHINA SYNDROME

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 $300m Port plan signed in “weeks”…. China deal will mean local jobs

Cruise ships will berth at new GT terminal

In four weeks, government will sign a final agreement for George Town’s three-year, $300 million port development, with safeguards for local employment, contracting, supply of materials and worker accommodation.

Additionally, ownership of the two cruise-ship piers and associated onshore “upland” developments will not pass to builders China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), instead remaining firmly in the hands of Cayman’s Port Authority.

Los Angeles-based Fortune-500 engineering giant Aecom, will do the environmental study of the project, borrowing historical data from previous George Town studies and liaising with the Department of the Environment.

Meanwhile government officials have promised to look at a proposed Red Bay alternate port, but indicate they are unlikely to abandon George Town, possibly designating the South Sound site as a replacement for Spotts Landing.

Speaking about the nascent agreement, Ellio Solomon, George Town MLA and head of government’s negotiating team, told iNews Cayman he expected an accord “by mid-February, at the latest  by late February, but more likely in the middle of the month.”

Work, he said, would begin almost immediately, involving some dredging and boring, but focused initially on the environmental study, project design and assessment of the Spotts Landing foul-weather berthing alternative.

MLA Ellio Solomon

After four days of talks last week in Kingston, simultaneous with the inauguration of new Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Mr Solomon said, “the discussions went really well. They were tough, but it was very important to deal with the issues and concerns of the public, which is what I had most in mind.”

“Maximising opportunities for Caymanians,” he said, particularly on upland development of the piers and associated two-storey retail, restaurant and hotel space, meant “every block that is laid, all the aggregate, every bit of steel that is driven and every time someone puts on a roof, Caymanians will have the opportunity. It will be Caymanians as much as possible.

“We want Caymanians to bid on all that work, competitively of course,” he said, while similar stipulations would govern “the supply of materials”.

“We were also concerned about where workers will live and what kind of accommodations they will build. I wanted to make sure we avoid the kind of situation with ‘man-camps’, although we have had them before in Cayman,” he said, referring to construction-site barracks that previously housed Camana Bay builders.

”They are going to deal with local accommodation as much as possible,” he said. “I made it clear it wasn’t happening that [the Chinese] get a piece of land and build on it.” In meeting owners of vacant rental units, he said, they had agreed to discounted long-term leases.

“A guy may have a one-bedroom unit he rents for $500 or $600 per month, but now he could rent for five years or three years at $400.”

He had gained some success when he “tried to remove” terms that awarded the port to the Chinese for between 49 years and 51 years, instead allowing CHEC a return on the multi-million build-operate-transfer investment, but staggering payments through time.

“They need to make a return,” he said, “but there will be a sharing of money, and there are some dates in the ground, although the final paperwork will define them.

“The Chinese will share a per-head figure on each tourist,” currently set at approximately $15, “and the first year they will get some portion of that, the second year another portion and still another in the third year, so it will go slowly.

“While the Chinese will rent the upland portion and be responsible for all maintenance, full ownership and operation will be by the Port Authority. At no point,” Mr Solomon said, would CHEC gain ownership.

The environmental study would “take pretty much about three months, but a lot of the work has already been done. Dart did some and has assigned it to CHEC, which has also done some other work,” he said.

Director of the Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie confirmed that CHEC had recommended Aecom for the study, but said “we are still waiting for them to come back to us. We have heard nothing from them.”

As to Red Bay, Mr Solomon said, “I don’t think the government is averse to it, but we are not in a position to stop what has to happen in the George Town harbour. We are not going to move everything to Red Bay, but we see how important it is to have redundancy at the port and it would be prudent to retain several options.”

A wholesale move to the South Sound site would damage downtown retail operations, he said, while “I remain concerned about the impact of putting 1.5 million tourist in that neighbourhood. I am not going to knock something, however, without all the facts. We are willing to listen to that position and I am happy to attend Red Bay briefings,” Mr Solomon said.

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