Contributing Author Dickson Igwe

Continuation of a series of articles on airport development and expansion in the Virgin Islands

It is requisite to note, before the start of this article, that a very influential voice in these Antilles, one of those men with his fingers on the social, economic, and political pulse , and who wishes to remain anonymous, has informed this Observer that he believes the pristine and idyllic island of Anegada is the most desirable place to locate a hub type jetliner facility. This is owing to cost considerations: apparently it will be a lot cheaper than building an extra terminal at Beef Island and extending the runway there thousands of feet into the seas.

 There will be less disruption on Anegada and less environmental impact he believes, than would be the case with extending the runway at Terrance B Lettsome International Airport. Terrance B Lettsome would remain a facility for regional air traffic, and even Virgin Gorda could also be developed to cater for specialized small jet traffic, while Anegada would cater for global air traffic. Last of all is the fact that Anegada- according to the source- possesses a social and economic dynamic, and geography, that appears ripe for an airport project of the type being proposed by the Government.  However, this proposition will depend upon the acquiescence of the people of Anegada and much discussion and study.      

Ok, the issue of sustainable development has become a major debate issue in Virgin Islands opinion columns: in both the printed press, and the online forums. And this time, the ‘back and forth’ is in regard to the sizzling conversation on airport and runway development. However, before going on another rendition of this increasingly heated topic, it will be stated very clearly, early in the narrative, that all of the points of view on this matter, whether for or against, on enabling the largest jet aircraft takeoff, land, and sit overnight in the Jurisdiction, are from Virgin Islanders and residents that love these Islands.

Island dwellers who appreciate the unique and paradisiacal nature of these Virgin Antilles, and who understand that living on this extraordinarily beautiful and divine piece of geography must never be taken for granted, that it is a profound privilege. Inhabitants of paradise who are fully aware that sustainable development must become a national modus Vivendi: but a good number of these persons, probably a majority, who do not see the development of an air and seaport infrastructure that improves and enhances the ease of entry into the territory by the world traveler, add swift, convenient, and direct access to and from places such as New York, Miami, London, Berlin, and Paris, and even Rio de Janeiro, Tel Aviv, and Moscow, down the road, as anathema to a pristine geography, and contradictory to the idea of ecological sustainability.

On February 8, 2012, there was an interesting story in CaribDirect, a British based news media and global forum this Pilgrim has the privilege of contributing occasionally , titled, ‘’ Curacao wants to conquer Brazilian tourists. ‘’ The news piece spoke of the importance of Brazil as the fastest growing visitor group in the Dominican Republic, something Curacao is determined to imitate. Brazil is the most powerful economy in Latin America, even larger than the British economy, with a new breed of high spending tourist. However, bear in mind that both Santo Domingo and Curacao have the capability of direct connections with Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and other large Brazilian and Latin American cities. A dynamic the Virgin Islands does not possess at present.

Loblolly Bay, Anegada. Photo courtesy

Now, the narrative on environmental sustainability presently centers around the core theme of whether or not the opportunity cost of creating an airport infrastructure that plugs these Antilles directly into a global airline and travel choreography is worth the inevitable impact on the environment. However, there appears to be a growing belief that airport and seaport infrastructure improvement and development on a major scale is critical to the long term social and economic geography, and wellbeing of these Majestic Islands.

But to begin with,  the Virgin Islands Premier, Honorable Dr. Orlando Smith, in an article that appeared on Virgin Islands News Online of February 23, 2012, ‘’ Tourism development plan to be reviewed,’’  asserted that seeking new approaches to improve the accessibility for visitors to Virgin Islands shores should be done in a sustainable way. That the government was very conscious of the need ‘’ to protect the golden goose,’’ that is the Virgin Islands environment. The Premier further described how ‘’ Tortola is only 21 square miles’’ and sister islands are tiny. That ‘’ to maintain the quality of our attractions we cannot afford to over burden any one site.’’ Indeed true Honorable Premier!

The country’s leader further made the observation that ‘’ a 2002 study indicated that 84% of tourists would prefer to stay at an accommodation that had received green accreditation, and 68% would pay more to stay there. ‘’ Eco friendly tourism, like sustainable and renewable energy, is the future of Virgin Islands commerce, undoubtedly.  He included in his rendition these words: ‘’ it is our beautiful clear waters, our pristine beaches, our colourful reefs, and lush hills, that attract tourists to our islands, and it is the income we earn from tourism that makes our quality of life possible.’’  Certainly!

In another vein, another Virgin Islands leader, Honorable Deputy Premier, Dr. Kedrick Pickering, speaking on the subject of sustainable development at a recent seminar, ‘’ greening the economy- sustainable development for the Virgin Islands,’’ exhorted that living in harmony with the environment ensured the provision of resources to this society, that sustain life, health and economic growth.

The Deputy Premier asserted that ‘’ a vibrant economy, healthy lifestyle, and envied quality of life,’’ depended upon ‘’our clean air, uniquely beautiful land and seascapes, and diverse and highly valuable coastal and marine resources.’’ The Deputy Leader described how ‘’ salt ponds serve as important drainage basins in times of floods, that mangroves protect shorelines from crashing waves during hurricanes, reefs sustain fisheries and marine life, and white sands make for pristine beaches.’’

Before this national focus on matters environmental, an anonymous blogger on January 21, 2012, on the BVI News online blog, responded to this Observer’s article on the subject of airport expansions on Beef Island, by determining that ‘’a cheaper and more environmentally friendly option, is to extend the Anegada runway northwards, and expand the terminal.’’

The blogger added further that ‘’ Anegada has more land to store fuel safely.’’ Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous believed that after such a project is completed, there could be frequent ‘’ air and sea shuttles to Tortola and Virgin Gorda.’’ This Pilgrim would add Jost Van Dyke. This insightful person also described how an Anegada airport hotel for layovers could be built, and offered by Government as an investment opportunity for private businessmen or women.

The ‘visionary’ asserted that building a major facility on Anegada ‘’ is a perfect opportunity to bring Anegada into the BVI economy, the extended runway could also bring large freight aircraft directly into the territory.’’ Anegada would then become ‘’ our air freight and long haul passenger hub.’’

A major airport construction project would immediately put life into the Virgin Islands construction industry, benefit barge and ferry owners, and put scores of contractors and construction workers in profitable employment.  Land values on Anegada could increase dramatically, and the development should benefit Anegadians commercially, and may prompt international investors to pump money into various projects on that pristine island.

To be continued