By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
Amid uncertainty as to whether Government will further delay the controversial project to extend the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fahie has declared that the project should be done now.
He stopped just short of mocking people who claim that now is not the right time to undertake the multi-million dollar capital project.
“The ‘wise’ among us believe that now is not the right time; that we cannot afford to get this done. But they are wrong! The truth is that we cannot afford not to. But, how are we going to do it? The same way our forefathers built the strong foundation of these beautiful Virgin Islands for the people, by the people, with the people,” Fahie said in his Territory Day address yesterday at the Sir Rupert Briercliffe Hall.
He added, “Victory is once again knocking on our doors, and we must answer intelligently or we will all suffer. We must turn these challenges into opportunities for all! The time for victory is now!”
This is the first time that the Opposition leader is expressing such clear support for the airport project being executed now. On previous occasions, he questioned if Government could afford the project. He also supported Government back-benchers who had called for the project to be delayed, adding that the British Virgin Islands (BVI) could not afford it.
Meanwhile, prior to facing a split in his government over the timing of the proposed airport project, Premier Dr D Orlando Smith had announced that China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) was the preferred bidder. CCCC had promised to extend the runway for $153.4 million.
However, planned negotiations with CCCC did not get off the ground. Premier Smith also missed a March 2017 deadline he had given for the signing of a contract to facilitate the start of the project.
Responding to questions posed in the House of Assembly a few weeks ago, minister with responsibility for airport Dr Kedrick Pickering stated that “the government is considering its next steps” in relation to the airport extension project.
Heads needed in beds!
Meanwhile, the Opposition leader yesterday noted that the airport project and improved airlift are particularly needed to boost the territory’s tourism industry, especially at a time when financial services continues to face tough times.
He explained: “We are at another difficult period in the economic development of our territory. Hotels and resorts are experiencing unprecedented challenges in getting the heads in the beds. We need money in the Treasury. We need to pay for government operations, and we need to address – in a credible way – our airlift situation in order to keep our tourism industry afloat.”
“We also know that, if we do nothing, we risk losing those jobs, destroying the livelihood of our people, and seriously undermining the BVI economy. We also run the risk of seeing significant decrease in revenue in the public coffers,” added Fahie.
“It is no secret that financial services has been under attack for years, and the larger nations of the world are continuing this fight. This tells me that we really have to focus our attention on tourism – among other areas. And the experts in tourism have told us that, if we hope to grow the overnight visitor business, then we cannot do it without airlift.”
Fahie continued: “I suggest to you on this Territory Day that, if your desire is to see this territory grow and progress, then we need to make every effort to protect BVI tourism and grow our tourism product. And, like it or not, this also means significantly improving – through a credible manner, our airlift and the extending of the runway to ensure a greater level of air access especially with direct flights to and from the US mainland – among other parts of the world.”
Fahie further stated that the territory’s economy benefited from prior extensions of the airport runway.
“We have seen our air strip expanded and extended to the extent that, in the 2000s, American Eagle gave us a wonderful connection to the USA from which the vast majority of our tourism business originates. At the height of operations, we had 11 flights a day. Air access was not a problem, and our tourism flourished.”
“But then American Eagle give notice of a hardware change and, in order to continue to survive, we had to extend the runway to its present 4642 feet. This was a $55 million investment that took place in 2004. From this foundation laid by our forefathers, our financial services benefited, our hotels benefited, our taxi drivers benefited, our people benefited,” Fahie said.
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