By Esther Durand, BVI News Staff
Large international air carriers have started to show interest in making direct flights from other countries to the British Virgin Islands once the much-touted airport expansion project is completed.
Advisor to the BVI Airports Authority, Jeff Seider, made that statement during a discussion on the project at the Althea Scatliffe Primary School Thursday evening.
“There are a number of airlines that have expressed interest in coming [but] they want tiles on the ground [before they make any commitments,” Sieder said.
Project still in infancy
The project which has been on the proverbial drawing board for a number of years is still at the infancy stage.
Greg Adams, Chief Planner of the Town and Country Planning Department said Thursday’s public discussion was to gather feedback from residents so the project can gain some semblance of traction.
“Right now I believe there is still some more work that needs to be done. We need to gather more information so we can get to the point where I can be comfortable in saying: based on the size and scope of this project, we have enough information to say we can take this decision and go forward with it,” he told BVI News.
Adams further said his department is hoping to have a draft plan on the project sometime in February. Once that draft is completed, the department will then return to the public for further consultation.
Residents, in the meantime, express various concerns in relation to the project.
Some of the concerns raised were about noise pollution to neighbouring businesses once the project gets underway, the impact on the environment, and the concern that the expansion is being pushed although there are a limited number of proper accommodations and other infrastructure to supplement any increased visitor arrivals the BVI might get because of the airport expansion.
“All of those are very valid concerns. My job is to gather as many information that we can to make the best decision that we can,,” Chief Planner Adams responded.
Adams further explained that findings of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project will be publicised to address some of the concerns.
“Even though it’s an EIA, it is not just the impact from the sea and the soil – it is the economic environment, it’s the social environment,” Adams said.
“All of this is a very fluid process right now because we recognize — given the scope of the project — there is a lot to study and consider,” he added.
Groundbreaking not around the corner
The Chief Planner said Thursday’s public meeting is not a signal that the project is about to take off.
“This process is not to railroad or suggest that we are starting the process immediately. It is a step toward making that decision.”
He said the process dates back to as far back as 2010 when there were still various locations to consider for the project. However, due to factors such as cost, it was narrowed down to Beef Island.
“I have been in my position for almost six years and I inherited the project. For financial considerations — from what I have been told — this is the most cost-effective alignment in terms of keeping the runway in its present alignment and adding on to it in an easterly direction.”
About the project
The project is estimated to cost some $250 million, out of which at least $153 million will be used to expand the runway from 4645 feet to about 7100 feet so larger aircraft can land in the territory. The balance of the funds is projected to go towards the development of the airport’s terminal building.
The project involves recruiting investors to develop and operate the airport for 20 to 30 years before returning control to central government. In October of last year, Premier Dr D Orlando Smith said there would be progress on the project before he demits office.
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