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Sir James’ projects and Airports

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by Informed Observer

I was very disappointed at the most recent journalistic effort at discussing airport development. The latest discourse by agronomist and former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, a man who has personally conceptualized and piloted several failed projects was both disrespectful and farcical.

Sir James is not a planner, engineer or architect and appears not to have a clue about project management or implementation. This is a man, who in his choice of projects, has always shown scant regard for public opinion and the views of local professionals. {{more}}

As we contemplate the EC$300 million of unaffordable construction cost for the Argyle airport, let us revisit Sir James’ recent wasted investments. The $60 million Bequia Airport which was implemented without stakeholder consultation and market analysis, now receives two (2) inter-island flights per day. The $20 million concrete market in Kingstown simply provides shade for vendors, while creating congestion and high blood pressure for many.

The $55 million Cruise Ship Terminal has not and will not attract ships to St. Vincent and the Grenadines ñ not even makeshift retail shops can survive in that location.

Add to that the $250 million debt of the Ottley-Hall and Union Island marinas and you will understand the wisdom of Professor Denis Rondinelli when he attributes project failure to the promotion of pet projects in the absence of consultation and appraisal. What is evident is that Sir James committed to a total $385 million of debt/investment in dubious projects over the last decade and now claims that $400 million for an airport is unaffordable.

So that the choice of a guilt-ridden Sir James to counter the team that proposed the Argyle airport Site was indeed laughable. The Argyle team included Dr. Rudy Matthias, an economist and financial expert, Mr. Jeffrey Cato, a civil engineer of over twenty-five (25) years experience including experience in dredging and coastal works and Carl Glasgow, an experienced lawyer and urban planner.

On the program, Sir James displayed his usual piecemeal approach to airport development without even the slightest consideration for social, environmental and planning issues. His reference to a letter from one of the six consultants invited to submit proposals for extending the Arnos Vale runway shows the disdain he has for Vincentian professionals.

Nowhere in the Ministry of Planning or the former Communications and Works Ministry can this letter or file be found. Not even his NDP party officials had the benefit of the contents of the letter, even while they were in office. Yet there

was obvious excitement about being in possession of a letter that no-one has ever seen

and that really should be the property of the Government and People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines!

The reference to the Sypher-Mueller letter is nonsensical because Sypher was responding to a request for proposals for extending the ETJ airport. According to the terms of reference provided to them, the Mitchell Government had already decided to extend the ETJ airport and was inviting consulting firms to do investigations and designs at Arnos Vale only.

It would therefore be quite surprising for consulting firms to widen their scope and suggest other alternatives. They are not concerned about economic, planning or environmental issues, they were asked to design an extension.

Sir James then confused himself when he explained that MMM, the original consultants had proposed only going as far as Nancy Rock with the extension. Sypher, according to him, felt that the cost of that shorter runway was overstated (too high) and that they could instead extend the runway ever further, into deeper waters, and avoiding Cane Garden point for much less! Figure that one out!

Sir James omitted to tell us that Sypher: Mueller had recognized in their own words ìthat expansion of the present site is not without its difficulties and constraints’ and that they were proceeding with the ETJ extension on the basis that Argyle, which was the best option, was considered unaffordable by the Government.

Sypher also did not take into account the extent of acquisitions necessary at Arnos Vale, Sion-Hill and Cane Garden. Nor did Sypher conduct any coastal and marine studies to determine depths and quantities of fill required.

Sir James also did not come clean with the residents of East Kingstown when he concealed the fact that Sion-Hill Bay will be no more. He also forgot to tell the sports men and cricket fans that he will have to relocate and rebuild a $45 million cricket stadium. Sir James also did not tell Jerry that with the extended runway, the residents and businesses along the Arnos Vale main road up to the Cane Hall Bridge will have to be relocated to places unknown and at costs unknown.

Sir James should also come clean with the fact that although jets may be able to land on his extended runway they will only be able to take off with 60% of the seats full.

Even if all we eventually get from this present Government’s initiative at Argyle is the excavation and grading of a 7000 ft earthen runway by the Cubans and Venezuelans, then we would have cleared a significant hurdle in the realization of a jet port and at no significant cost to out taxpayers.

Why then should we reject this offer? It that case, it would then be up to future Vincentian generations to complete the project.

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