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Town Cut dredging study carried out

Investigative work being carried out in St George's Harbour in June (Photograph by Alan Skinner)

A study regarding the possible dredging of Town Cut in St George’s has been carried out, sparking hope that “procrastination” on the project is finally coming to an end.

New mayor Quinell Francis is one of many in recent years who have voiced support for modifying the cut — allowing it to accommodate bigger ships — to help rejuvenate the Old Town.

As the Government of Bermuda confirmed an environmental study has taken place in St George’s Harbour this summer, East End MP Kenneth Bascome, local residents and business owners all said they hoped a resolution on the project would come soon.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Public Works said: “There was recently an environmental impact study conducted of the North Shore shipping channel.

“Since they were here we requested that they also do a study in St George’s as well. The results of this study will assist in determining if we dredge and how much we can dredge the Town Cut.”

The topic of modifying Town Cut arose after cruise lines essentially abandoned the port as a destination because larger ships were unable to reach the town.

Efforts have been made to attract smaller cruise lines to the port with limited success with only two visits scheduled for this year. However, while some have said larger cruise ships would provide a desperately-needed economic boost, detractors have expressed concern about the potential environmental impact.

A government report, released in 2011, found that Town Cut would need to be doubled in size — essentially destroying Higgs, Horseshoe and Hen Islands — in order to allow Post-Panamax Tier 2 ships to the East End.

Less extensive modifications were also considered, such as dredging the channel and a lesser widening of the cut, which would allow safer access for ships such as Holland America’s Veendam.

Previous St George’s mayors Garth Rothwell and Mr Bascome had expressed support for some degree of modification of Town Cut.

Mr Bascome, now the area MP, said yesterday that he remains supportive of the idea of modifying the cut, provided that studies show it can be done without environmental “desecration”.

“I continue to say that once the studies are done the Government needs to decide on a way forward because we have procrastinated too long,” Mr Bascome said.

“We can see that the additional ferry service has been a benefit, but on occasion the ferries have malfunctioned.

“I believe that with a cruise ship carrying 2,500 passengers, it’s going to energise the businesses and it would bring people here from other parts of the Island because it would create an ambience.”

Joeann Pearman, who works in St George’s, said that while having a cruise ship in the town would be a benefit, a cautious approach needs to be taken when it comes to modifying the cut.

“What we are doing now, with the cruise ships in Hamilton and Dockyard and having the ferries take them to St George’s, is working,” she said.

St George’s business owner and resident Mark Tatem also stressed the need for a balanced approach to the issue.

“As a local business owner, the more foot traffic we can get down here in St George’s, the better,” he said.

“As a resident, though, I think we need to be careful not to disturb our precious ecology.

“Just recently we were out by Higg’s Island and saw at least 20 parrot fish.

“It’s good to see those signs of a healthy ecosystem, and that’s something we need to protect.”

Mr Tatem added that the public transportation system have been doing a good job of getting visitors to the town, but the town usually empties out by around 3pm.

“A cruise ship would definitely help with the nightlife, particularly the bars and restaurants,” he said.

Before becoming elected mayor this year, Ms Francis said: “It’s time for a final decision to be made over what we should do with Town Cut.

“We need to either accept that modifications need to be done so that a cruise ship can come into St George’s, or accept that we are not getting a cruise ship.

“For my part, I feel modifications are needed, but we need to make an informed decision based on all the facts.”