During the 3 April edition of the National Democratic Party (NDP) radio program government was advised by a resident to ignore complaints and proceed with two proposed projects that individually attracted the highest public criticism the Party has ever faced. The suggested projects are the Beef Island Golf Course project and the T.B. Lettsome Airport Expansion project. Both projects for differing reasons fuelled public concern.
The caller announced that he believes that more needs to be done to improve the Territory’s tourism product; he, then, zoomed on matters such as the uncertainties with financial services, airlift woes, and accommodation shortcomings, and announced that by undertaking both projects Government can save the BVI from a dismal economic future.
Recently, the conversation surrounding the proposed Airport project has been poles apart, as persons weigh the need for the development against the cost, arguing that the investment should not be undertaken at this time.
Another concern is the fact that a China-based company is in the running for the contract, and residents express concerns relating to rumours 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. A commentator told this newspaper that is also difficult to see, in case things go wrong with China, what David could do with Goliath this time around.
The division was further widened as the Opposition and members of the Government backbench echoed hesitation about certain aspects of the proposed project.
It is against this backdrop that the caller on Monday admonished the Premier and his panel of Ministers to proceed and ignore those opposing. He said: “We need the airport expanded now.”
In defending his point the caller, who said that he works in the tourism industry, mentioned the withdrawal of American Eagle from the Territory, and announced that some of the other islands that were also affected have already develop better airports. The above mentioned pundit noted that “the caller failed to mention that St. Thomas is doing great as a replacement for Puerto Rico, and in fact visitors numbers are going up not down; a better ferry service with St. Thomas to get tourists here quickly and smoothly, and a faster Immigration & Customs clearance would be welcome by tourists. A massive investment at a time when we do not know where the world is heading for is very unwise.”
He specifically mentioned the recent opening of St Vincent and the Grenadines international airport and noted that the BVI has more arrivals than that country and should also develop its airport: “We are still in the top ten for (tourist) arrivals…We need the airport. If we don’t get it now in the next few years, the BVI will get hurt in getting people here,” the resident pleaded.
He added: “I know that the airport can pay for itself in the BVI; I know that; I am involved in the industry. The yachting sector of the BVI is good, but after April the tourism industry takes a tail down because the yachting industry goes down a bit. What will sustain the BVI a little longer in tourism is people that stay in hotels. I find that we are not discussing that; because that’s what brings flights. Rooms tie into flights; that’s what it does,” the resident added.
Premier Smith agreed with the airport expansion suggestion but 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.”
The same caller also announced that the shelved golf course project is one of the developments that can be very beneficial at this time. He therefore asked Premier Smith to put the project back on the burner: “we see a lot of development happening around the BVI in the islands of Virgin Gorda and other places, but nothing happening in Tortola. We need to start having some serious discussions; because if financial services gonna take a hit we don’t know what is going to happen. Tourism got to carry the burden and we need more rooms, we need the golf course –start the discussion again,” the caller said. This claim contrasted with the rosy picture painted earlier by the same caller.
He added: “People will make noise, Hon. Lavity Stoutt tried to build certain things in this country, and he got opposed everywhere he turned. People will oppose, but we need to get the facts so people can understand, and this is where we going this is where we have to go.”
The golf course, and Beef Island five star hotel project referred to by the resident was highly contested during the NDP’s 2003-2007 administration. In fact, the project was the subject of many public meetings and even a court case. At the heart of the controversial matter were plans for the development of a resort that included: inner and outer marinas; a marina village; a 200 room hotel and spa; residential lots and villas, Trellis Bay Commercial Centre, and an 18 hole, 180 acre golf course.
The hotel and golf course plan became a controversial matter as residents protested claiming that if commenced the project would have adverse effects on Hans Creek and the surrounding area
However, the idea was never discarded as Premier Smith announced back in May 2014 that the project is still on the table. During a press conference on May 29, Premier Smith informed reporters that the Beef Island project is being promoted as one of the Territory’s investment opportunities as Government tries to woe investment to the BVI.
“But at one point in the 1990s wasn’t there a Chinese investor who had bought lots of land on Beef Island to build a huge hotel with its golf course? What happened?” the pundit asked.