November 29, 2020

Harbour deal to be signed “in weeks”

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Cruise ship leaves George Town (photo Paul Kennedy)

Government expects a final port-construction agreement with the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) in February, only five weeks away.

The signing will come approximately one month ahead of the official 31 March deadline for the framework agreement, and is unlikely to include the gambllng casino designated on the CHEC conceptual plan.

“I’m not sure what people are seeing, but I really don’t think anyone has to worry,” said Ellio Solomon, UDP backbencher and head of government’s negotiating team for port development. “Casinos are illegal.

“It’s a standard template someone is likely to have drawn up, but I am not anticipating a casino and would not agree to any plans encompassing a casino. There is no such thing,” he said.

Mr Solomon said he was making “tremendous progress” in talks with the company. “We are working towards a framework agreement and we will have something soon.

“Absolutely before 31 March,” he said. “I would say in the first part of the year we’ll get something positive, something worked out with the framework — by around February, I’d say, as a ballpark figure”.

MLA Ellio Solomon

Premier McKeeva Bush signed the original CHEC MOU on 13 June for development of four George Town cruise-ship berths, renovation of the Spotts Landing foul-weather jetty and a visitors’ pier at the Cayman Turtle Farm.

Mr Bush was forced, however, to postpone the framework agreement, initially set for 30 November, until 31 March, while putting Mr Solomon in charge of talks after a two-day November tour of CHEC’s $400 million Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme, involving bridges, roads and seawalls.

Both the MOU and developing talks have come under scrutiny by London’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which asked Mr Bush to sign a “Framework for Fiscal Responsibility”, requiring a cost-benefit analysis of the project by accountant KPMG.

“I have been in discussions with everyone,” Mr Solomon told iNews Cayman on Thursday, describing the pace and extent of talks, ”whether with CHEC or KPMG and other stakeholders, and not always in person, but by telephone and ICT,” information and communications technology such as video-conferencing .

“We have had a lot of working discussions have made tremendous progress and will have something soon,” he said.

The casino designation, he said, had come “without me”, before he joined the talks, “and would be something that was done awhile ago. It would only be conceptual,” Mr Solomon said.

The proposal comes in a preliminary drawing of “George Town Port Design” by the Beijing-based international infrastructure giant, given to the Chamber of Commerce as part of a 10-member November tour alongside — although independent of — Mr Solomon.

Explicitly saying it “has not yet been finalised”, the drawing nonetheless designates a “hotel/casino” as part of the “upland” section of the $300 million development, detailing thousands of square feet of retail, restaurant, transport, customs and parking space on two storeys.

Meanwhile, the Department of the Environment (DoE) said talks were ongoing with CHEC about an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the port development, but the timing and duration of the study had not been decided “An EIA is not legally required, “DoE director Gina Ebanks-Petrie told iNews Cayman, “because there is no National Conservation Law, but obviously we would recommend that one be done.
“We have had two preliminary meetings with CHEC, and are in the very early stages of looking at terms of reference. We are just waiting now to hear back from them.”

She said DoE had not seen an earlier EIA done by initial port contractor Dart Engineering Company, but were hoping to refer to it as part of the CHEC undertaking.

“We’re also looking to see if any previous technical studies that were done are at all relevant. Any EIA, though, “ she cautioned, “is project specific,” suggesting that CHE could not use alternative studies, but must complete its own.

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