Taking a softer position on a project he recently pushed forcefully, Premier Dr D Orlando Smith spoke into a radio microphone last evening, telling the British Virgin Islands that it is important for his government to ‘very carefully’ examine how to proceed with its plans to extend the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport.
He, at the time, was surrounded by his Cabinet members Mark Vanterpool, Dr Kedrick Pickering, Ronnie Skelton, and Myron Walwyn, as well as Marlon Penn who is the Junior Minister of Trade and Investment Promotions.
“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,” Premier Smith said with strong conviction in response to a resident who had raised the controversial issue.
The premier’s posture last evening represented a sharp contrast from the position he expressed up to a few weeks ago, when he was adamant that the project is affordable, and that a contract would have been signed by last month. There is still no contract.
Premier Smith recently came under huge pressure when five of his own Government lawmakers declared publicly that they are not in support of the project being undertaken at this time mainly due to concerns about funding.
China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) had promised to extend the runway at a cost of $153,432,572.
An expanded runway, Premier Smith argued, is crucial to solving the territory’s airlift problems.
Regarding airlift, he last evening noted that preparation is still being made to commence flights between the BVI and Miami in the United States.
“I think we all appreciate that airlift is important and we are actually working on that assiduously… We are very keen on improving air access in the territory. This is why we are working with this group who are starting BVI Airways. It has great potential at this moment in time for improving the tourism in the country, and even all other business activities,” Premier Smith said.
Airport can pay for the project
Meanwhile, a resident last evening told Premier Smith that he thinks the airport is capable of making enough money to fund the proposed runway project.
But he is wary of what may happen in the months when many tourists traditionally don’t visit the territory.
“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 more longer in tourism is people that stay in hotels. I find that we are not discussing that; because that’s what bring flights. Rooms tie into flights; that’s what it does,” the resident continued.
“We are seeing a lot of development happening round the BVI in the islands of Virgin Gorda and other places, but nothing ain’t happen in Tortola. We need to start some serious discussion because, if financial service is gonna take a hit, we don’t know what would happen. Tourism has to carry the burden. We need more rooms; we need the golf course discussion again; we need Prospect Reef to come back as a hotel; we need another hotel on the western side; we need to start these discussions,” the resident further told Premier Smith.
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