December 2, 2020

MAC’S BIG MISTAKE

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Cayman’s sea captains hit back yesterday at the apparent rejection by Premier McKeeva Bush of proposals to locate Cayman’s new cruise berths in Red Bay, accusing government of making “a serious mistake”.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, and elaborating on remarks made the previous night at a Bodden Town “tourism awareness” gathering, Mr Bush said he “couldn’t go there” in regard to Red Bay proposals, suggesting that “vested interests come in the guise of public interest”.

The coalition of three captains, Arlen McCoy, Paul Hurlston and Bryan Ebanks, have repeatedly disavowed any financial interest in the area and the plans, offering it in the public interest.

“The Premier and current government refuses to review the Red Bay location as a part of their due diligence in providing ‘value-for-money’ and environmental reports on cruise berthing in Grand Cayman,” Captain McCoy said in a Wednesday statement, charging the UDP “have made a decision without having a consideration for alternates”.

Red Bay, say the captains, is superior to George Town because of its sheltered location, eliminating the need for Spotts Landing’s foul-weather alternate. It is also less environmentally damaging; is already part of National Roads Authority plans for new highways; and is expandable in future.

“We believe that the very reason given, the existing retailers downtown, is not valid and they will be impacted more by the new mega-retail mall in the Chinese’s proposal than by Red Bay,” Captain McCoy said, citing Mr Bush’s rejection of the location because of commercial investments of $30 million in George Town

“We ask the government to come to reason and include Red Bay into consideration,” he said.

Mr Bush, both in Bodden Town and the LA, reviewed the history of port development, starting in 2003 and ending with the 2011 MOU with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), scheduled to be concluded by 31 March.

He rejected worries that CHEC would dominate construction and ownership of the port and import their own labour, saying the MOU explicitly called for local contractors, and that Caymanians would be offered an equity share of the project, although he provided no details.

“There are many facets to this, and in CHEC we have found a partner prepared to take on these complexities,” Mr Bush said.

Additionally, he said, CHEC was a cheaper alternative than its predecessors, demanding only 1% to 3% of its $300 million capital costs, meaning the company would earn between $3 million and $9 million, coupled with a port lease of approximately 50 years.

The initial Dart-related contractors, however, had sought between 8.5% and 10% of costs pegged between $150 million and $200 million, yielding an average $16.1 million and coupled with a 99-year lease.

Immediate CHEC antecedent GLF had asked between 7.5% and 8.5%, Mr Bush said, meaning the company would garner $9.85 million on $185 million capital expenses, coupled with a lease between 25 years and 30 years.

“What is being done now is a proper business case, value-for-money study,” Mr Bush said. “What is being included is relevant and adequate natural environment protection; consideration of how to best integrate commercial and vehicular traffic flows, to minimise the load-bearing impact on our infrastructure, and maximise local business and employment opportunity.”

Captain McCoy said he had repeatedly sought to meet Mr Bush and the UDP, but had been rebuffed.

“We invited the George Town MLA members to our public meeting but they did not attend,” he said, renewing an offer “to sit with him [Mr Bush] at any time to explain the benefits of Red Bay”.

He cited “significant support” for the proposal from both the Cayman Contractor’s Association and cruise-ship captains, saying government was “making a serious mistake” by ignoring the idea.

“We will await the government’s public presentations of the Chinese proposal and the completed environmental impact assessment (EIA) for George Town. We certainly hope that they do so prior to them contemplating signing the final agreement. We believe once both locations are compared the Red Bay facility will be the logical choice,” Captain McCoy said.

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