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Field of Dreams (Part 1)

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by Frank E. da Silva Fri, Aug 10, 2012

(This article, as indicated, was first published in 1999 and republished January 2001. It comprised two parts. Here I will add a part three for updates. Have I changed my position?)

In the heat of the airport debate in August 1999, I wrote this column in support of James Mitchell’s announced plan to commence extension of the E.T. Joshua Airport. As the events of the last weeks have shown, it was the prudent thing to do at the time.{{more}} As it is now, it is still the correct approach, but it seems that the new Prime Minister either does not have the money to proceed, or has allowed himself to be intimidated by rabble-rousers and demagogues who — as this surely highlights — have put their political ambition ahead of what is in the best interest of the country.

A strong supporter of the ULP at the time, I thought the tactic of the ULP was misguided and should have served notice that the leadership of the party was clearly opposing for opposing sake. Parnell Campbell and the NDP have been given a campaign issue by people who, for all their talk of vision, were completely blinded by their desire to advance themselves; they should use it. Given the recent events, Arnhim Eustace should take the opportunity to do what his predecessor did not do – convince Vincentians that to further delay is economic suicide.) The column:

In 1982, I left my home in Brooklyn at 5 a.m. for a visit to SVG. I arrived in Troumaca about 10 p.m. Two months ago, I was asked by a friend to pick up her 70-odd-year-old grandmother, who was coming from SVG to America for the first time. She left her home in SVG about 5 a.m.; she arrived at JFK around 11 p.m. If these were direct flights from the US or SVG, either of us would have been at our final destination in eight hours, allowing for land travel, check-in, customs and immigration. Instead, our time exceeded sixteen hours.

Stranded

I left New York at 7 a.m., arrived in Barbados at 12:30 p.m., but never left there until about 7 p.m. The grandmother was forced to stay in Barbados from about 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. when she boarded her BWIA flight — an intolerable state of affairs, which apparently had not improved in 17 years, despite the introduction of the American Eagle. But is the solution an international airport [whatever that means] for SVG? Is that the only solution? Should the government be obligated to build an international airport simply because Frank da Silva finds, “it is one of the most humiliating of experiences to be left stranded at an airport [Adrian Fraser]” on my way home?

Lost dollars

About a year ago, I was told of an instance when Amerijet arrived in SVG from Trinidad to pick up cargo. After loading, the plane was unable to take off because of our short runway. It was forced to return to Trinidad where it unloaded the cargo, returned to SVG to load, then back again to Trinidad, before heading to its destination, Miami, Florida. About a month ago, an entire shipment of produce on arrival in NY had to be dumped due to spoilage. The produce left SVG via boat to Barbados and sat there for a couple of days before it was put on a plane to NY. Thousands of dollars were lost in both cases.

Given our precarious economic situation, can we continue to absorb such losses? If we are serious about agricultural diversification and accessing the international markets, we must take immediate steps to avoid the earlier noted Amerijet fiasco; but is our only option a costly international airport? Again, what do we mean by ‘international airport’? At what cost? What size planes do we expect to land here? What will their cargo be? Does the Mitchell plan make more sense for the short term, given the various intangibles associated with the emerging global economy?

Rosy scenarios

Some are lamenting the fact that we are the only one in the region without an international airport, but is that a criterion for demanding that the nation be plunged into further debt? Viability, they suggest, should not be part of the discussion at this time; we ought to be about raising funds — a singularly irresponsible position to take, given our experiences with the money pit known as the Ottley Hall Marina. Do we wish to burden another generation with more of our bungling?

Others have advanced a number of quite rosy scenarios if we were to build an international airport and options for the use of Arnos Vale. If we did not have neighbours with international airports and stadiums from whom to measure the reliability of such grandiose predictions, we could easily be sucked in. But the lesson from our neighbours is that building it does not mean, “they will come.”

Can SVG afford another flower garden that blossoms but bear no fruits? Can we support another “Field of Dreams?”

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