By Mellica McPherson
The unwelcome visit of nefarious Hurricane Irma and the fact that everyone in the Territory is trying to restore things to normal has placed a lot of controversial matters on the back burner, but as things are gradually restored the topics are slowly being reheated. One such issue is the proposed airport expansion which has become a saga.
On Monday 21 November Premier and Minister for Finance, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith announced that the plan is still on the table. Hon. Smith while speaking at the United Nation’s High Level Pledging Conference in New York mentioned that Government intends to proceed with its plans to expand the runway of the Terrance B. Lettsome Airport.
The Premier told the gathering: “…Another of our goals is to ensure there is more efficient air access to the BVI. One of the lessons learned from the hurricane is that emergency access in and out of the islands is critical in the event of a hurricane or other emergency. Precious time was lost after Irma in getting flights in and out of the BVI through regional hubs because the runway at our airport is not long enough to accommodate longhaul jets.”
“We intend to extend the runway to ensure this never happens again and that direct emergency access from and to the US, Europe and Latin America are guaranteed for evacuation and relief purposes,” the Premier said.
Hon. Smith disclosed that there are also plans to upgrade the Territory’s seaports to reinforce accessibility. “These measures will give residents and visitors a greater sense of security in the future and instill confidence in hoteliers to rebuild,” he added.
Over the past few years, and months the conversation surrounding the proposed Airport project has been divided, as persons weigh the need for the development against the cost arguing that the investment should not be undertaken at this time.
Contractor to use its Chinese workers?
Another concern is the fact that a China-based company is in the running for the contract and residents expressed concern relating to rumors that the company has made requests to import its own labor. However, on numerous occasions Premier and Minister for Finance, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith has assured that a final decision has not been made on the contract, and that Government will seek public consultation on the matter.
The division was further widened as the Opposition and members of the Government backbench echoed hesitation about certain aspects of the proposed project.
Back in April, Premier Smith noted that Government is carefully approaching the matter: “I think we all in this room agree that there is need for expanding the airport here in the BVI, but I also think that we need to look at it very carefully and determine how we go forward.”