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Businesses call for more ferry service, smaller cruise ships

St George’s businesses yesterday expressed apprehension over a study suggesting that the Town Cut be dramatically widened to allow larger ships.

Media reports detailing the study say it recommends doubling the width of Town Cut, destroying large portions of Higgs, Hen and Horseshoe Islands.

The widening is expected to cost between $48 and $71 million, and would not be completed for at least another six years.

A Government spokesman last night could not confirm if the published information was accurate, but said that details of the study would be released to the public in the near future.

St George’s Mayor Kenneth Bascome said yesterday that he still had not seen the final report and could not comment on the specific details.

And while he reiterated the Corporation of St George’s plans to seek input from the public before any decisions are made, Mr Bascome warned that the final decision would be made not by the Corporation, but by Government.

“The final decision will not be mine,” he said. “If Government decided that this is the way forward, there is no stopping them.

“I’m hoping that the Corporation will have the opportunity to view the total plan before it is released to the public. Since 2000, we have not had any sort of tourism promotion about the fact that St George’s is a World Heritage Site. That is something that could be used to bring cultural tourists to Bermuda and the town.”

In the last four years, the number of cruise ships visiting the town has plummeted as the average size of cruise ships has grown.

According to statistics in the report, 126,158 visitors visited St George’s on a cruise ship in 2007, but this year only two ships carrying a total of 1,023 were scheduled to dock in the town.

The Holland America Line’s

Veendam also made regular visits to the east end, tendering at Murray’s Anchorage and ferrying passengers to the town, but rough weather and medical emergencies have repeatedly caused the ship to divert to Hamilton.

The concept of modifying the Town Cut has long been viewed as a possible remedy, allowing larger ships to reach the port.

The study, ordered last year by Premier Dr Ewart Brown, was intended to look at the possibility of straightening, widening or dredging the waterway.

According to media reports, of 14 strategies investigated, the three recommended each involve widening the shipping channel by between 75m and 95m by cutting away at islands to the south. The proposals are also expected to impact seagrass and coral in the area.

While awaiting the complete results of the study, Mr Bascome said the Corporation is doing what it can to prepare for next year’s cruise ship season the first in many years in which there are no regular cruise ships scheduled to visit the town.

“We are looking to do many things for next year to bring people to St George’s now that we know the

Veendam will be going to Hamilton. We will have to up our game when they come in so they catch a bus to St George’s, enjoy themselves, and go away to tell their friends what a pleasant time they had.”

He also said that a tourism promotion focusing on the town’s World Heritage Site status could be used to bring additional tourists to both Bermuda and the town, but such a campaign has yet to be launched.

Despite the challenges, he reiterated that he believed the town is on the verge of an upswing, and that there are numerous opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

Speaking yesterday, several St George’s businesses said that they felt the cost of widening the channel could be better spent on improving ferry service to the town and seeking a ship that could service the town as is.

Geza Wolf, co-owner of Wahoo’s Bistro and Patio, said that improving public transportation to help visitors travel between Dockyard and St George’s would make a massive difference, both to visitors and to businesses.

“In Dockyard, they have more people than they can handle,” he said. “You need to have eight or ten buses there, ready to go. That’s the key.”

He said that he has on several occasions called taxis for customers in the evenings, but 45 minutes later the taxis still haven’t arrived. “I call them back and ask when it’s expected, and they can’t tell me. It looks bad for the place, the whole Island.”

Regarding the proposed modifications to Town Cut, he said: “I don’t think that’s the right solution.”

He said business at the restaurant was steady, but others were not faring as well.

One business owner said over the past few years, he has struggled to keep his Water Street business up and running.

“We just don’t have the bodies to sell to,” he said, indicating towards a largely empty street.

“I really need to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the next year or two.”

He said that investing in ferries to serve St George’s could be an effective short-term solution, but the long-term solution would have to be a smaller ship.

While he acknowledged that operating ferries would cost the Government, he said the collapse of more local businesses would be more costly in the long run.

He dismissed the idea of bringing a larger ship to the town, saying: “If they did bring a big boat in here and all of a sudden there were 3,500 people looking for a bus, what are they going to do? Take the buses away from Dockyard?

“It’s a lot harder finding a smaller ship, but it’s the ideal solution. If we can get two small ships, that’s 4,000 people a week.”

Regarding the St George’s economy, local sculptor Paul Clinton said: “There is no economy. We need a hotel. We desperately need a hotel. How many announcements were made about groundbreakings, and yet we have seen nothing.”

He called the proposal to widen the cut a “disaster,” and said that public transportation to the town had drastically limited the number of visitors who can reach it.

“The ferry service has been crippled and the buses, when they are running, scarcely run on time. And they are concerned about Town Cut?”

All to ourselves; Pedestrians make their way along deserted Water Street in St. George?s that has been hard hit by a struggling economy.

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Published September 17, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated September 17, 2011 at 7:35 am)

Businesses call for more ferry service, smaller cruise ships

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