The Argyle International Airport is being built at undoubtedly one of the most challenging times in our nation’s history. Not only is it the largest capital project ever to be undertaken in this country, but also it is being built at a time when major economies across the world are going through financial turmoil. And St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not insulated.
We too are feeling the adverse financial shocks. So, how are we managing to press on with a project of this magnitude? The answer: Through creative thinking and prudent management. It is now common knowledge, that the government, led by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, realizing that this country needs improved air access and knowing that this country on its own could not finance this project, set about, in a creative way, to find the resources and funding to get it built.
After a year of preliminary studies, Venezuela help to jump start the earthworks in August 2008, with a donation of 37 pieces of heavy earth moving equipment. But this is not all; Venezuela continues to assist the airport project by making funds available, by way of loans at very concessionary rates, through the Alba Bank and the PetroCaribe Fund.
Cuba too has been playing a leading role. Cuban engineers and technicians have been here from inception, doing the preliminary technical work in soil testing, topographic surveys and wind studies. And in August 2008, many Cuban heavy equipment operators, together with their Vincentian counterparts, began the much anticipated process of leveling the mountains in Mt Pleasant and Argyle to start the physical construction of our airport – the dream of all Vincentians.
Our long-standing ally, Taiwan, has come to our assistance beautifully, with a grant of US$ 20 million and a soft loan of US$10 million to pay for the designs, supervision and construction of the terminal building and other landside facilities for the airport project. Similarly, we have received assistance from Trinidad, which made a grant of US$10 million, Mexico assisted with the Airport Master Plan, and Austria and Iran made financial grant contributions of various amounts.
The funding for this project has however not only come from external sources. Our government has been making its contribution to the project with funds raised from the sale of Crown lands on mainland and Bequia. These lands are sold on the IADC’s behalf by its sister company, National Properties Ltd. In more recent times, Vincentians, at home and abroad, have also been making their contributions to the project through the Argyle Airport Contributory Fund, which is set up at the National Commercial Bank.
As that process of finding money to build this most important infrastructure project continues, so too is the construction of the Airport.
Moving rapidly along, 42 percent of the total earthworks that is to be done has already been completed to date, and by the end of this year, 2010, we expect to complete 70 percent of the total earthworks. This means that in the year 2011, we would have only 30 percent of earthworks remaining to be done.
The runway is already taking shape in the 1st and 2nd kilometers, and within the next month (when the utility companies - Vinlec, Lime and CWSA) have removed or relocated their power, communication and water lines, we will begin excavating a segment of the Windward Highway to link the 1st and 2nd kilometers of the runway. As we prepare to do this work, we are also making a temporary new access road for residents of Mt. Pleasant and visitors to the Rawacou Beach Resort.
One trench has already been prepared to create a culvert within the 1st kilometer of the runway to convey rain water under the runway down to the sea. And adjacent to the 2nd kilometer of the runway, the land on which the terminal building is to be constructed is nearly at the desired level to allow construction of the terminal building to begin in July/August 2010.
Meanwhile, the detailed designs for the terminal building have been completed and the process of tendering for the construction of the terminal building and other landside facilities has already begun.
What is significant and worthy of note in all of this is that since the start of construction of the Argyle Airport, at no time has the project stalled, as a result of a lack of funds. This is not only testimony to the tireless work of the Hon. Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, and his government in seeking funding and the success in doing so, but also points to the astute management by Dr. Rudy Matthias, CEO, and the Finance Department of the IADC, of the limited funds available to build the Argyle International Airport.
Every Vincentian is encouraged to make this project his or her own, and support it. Every development has a price, but also has its benefits. Let us all think about and carefully measure the direct and indirect benefits and future opportunities that will arise in our country, from having the Argyle International Airport. When we do this, we are certain that everyone will arrive at the view that the potential benefits are worth the investment we are now making, in these challenging times.