By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
Minister responsible for airports Dr Kedrick Pickering today declined to answer specific questions posed about the fate of the proposed extension of the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport, adding that the project office that was established has been closed since 2014.
The government has been mum about the project for months since some of its members disagreed publicly over whether the project is affordable at this time.
Since then, the administration has missed a self-imposed deadline to sign a contract for the work to be undertaken.
Breaking the silence in the House of Assembly this afternoon (June 13), Opposition member Julian Fraser asked the minister responsible for airport: “Are you going ahead or you not going ahead [with the project]?”
Dr Pickering replied: “The government is considering its next steps.”
Dr Pickering repeated that response when Fraser asked specifically what the government has been “considering”.
Fraser also suggested that the government shouldn’t have much to consider based on the fact that – among other things – studies had been conducted, and Government even announced China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) as the preferred bidder in December 2016.
“Now he (Dr Pickering) is telling me that the government is considering its options; what’s there to consider? Isn’t it obvious?” Fraser insists.
The preferred bidder, CCCC, had promised to extend the runway at a cost of roughly $153.4 million.
While Fraser questioned Dr Pickering, he also used the words “his government”.
Dr Pickering, who is deputy premier, found it fit to clarify that the government doesn’t belong to him.
“I think if the member (Fraser) is to be politically correct. The question shouldn’t read ‘when did his government…?’ I think this is the government of Dr D Orlando Smith,” Dr Pickering said.
Dr Pickering was the main man pushing for the expansion of the airport runway.
He reportedly had the support of Premier Smith, whose advocacy for the project noticeably waned after members of the government publicly expressed objection to the development being done at this time.
Dr Pickering, in response to questions in the House today, stated that extension of the airport runway is still important.
“An important objective for any government is to support the development of the economy for the benefit of all its citizens. It is widely recognized that improved air access is one route to support the economic development of the territory.”
“Extension of the runway to about 7100 feet would allow current airlines fleets 737-800 and Airbus 320 to fly directly to and from the Continental US and Latin America. At present, established US airlines all cite the inability of the existing fleets to operate from the British Virgin Islands due to the runway length,” added Dr Pickering.
Project Office Closed
In the meantime, Dr Pickering, still responding to Fraser’s questions, said the airport project office that was established in July 2012 has been out of operation.
The office had a project manager and project resource coordinator, who were paid a combined total of $474,000.
“The project office, which is no longer in existence, was closed at the end of the project manager’s contract on September 30th, 2014. There was no cost incurred by the government as it pertains to the establishment of a physical office, as the project manager and the project resource coordinator both occupied space at the [Government-owned] BVI Airport Authority.”
“However, the project manager and project resource coordinator were contracted for a total sum of $474,000 during the period 2012 to 2014,” Dr Pickering further said.
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