Fri | Apr 28, 2017

St Vincent airport project nears finish line

Published:Friday | August 15, 2014 | 8:00 AM

St Vincent and the Grenadines is getting ready to open its new Argyle International Airport, six years after the project was unfolded.

St Vincent is still in need of cash to finish the project, even though the Ralph Gonsalves-led government had secured the US$80 million that the International Airport Development Company (IADC) said last year it needed to complete the airport.

The government says it is still awaiting the US$9.25 million from the sale of land to two developers in Canouan, as well as the disbursement of the final EC$10 million of an EC$40-million loan from the Venezuela-based ALBA bank.

But, despite the setbacks, the government is confident that the EC$700-million (US$259m) airport expected to become operational by mid 2015, will help boost the local economy, particularly the tourism and agricultural sectors.

"We have had a problem where we have markets in the United States of America, but we do not have the means of getting the fish to the US markets in a timely manner when the fish is still fresh," said Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Saboto Caesar, noting that the new airport, being build on St Vincent's east coast, will help to solve that problem.

"We want the private sector to come on board with their part in tourism, with agriculture. I continue to mention that many of our farmers in St Vincent and the Grenadines will be benefitting significantly from the Argyle International Airport," he said, as Cabinet ministers toured the facility last week.

Minister of Tourism, Sports, and Culture Cecil 'Ces' McKie also said the international airport will open up new possibilities in sport, tourism, agriculture, and culture.

But while the minister said he was "very impressed" with the progress on the new airport, he acknowledged that "a lot of persons have been debating when the facility will be completed".

Argyle has already missed several completion deadlines, with the latest now set for December 2014. The airport is expected to be "substantially completed" by the end of this year, and operational by mid-2015.

"I don't think that is up for debate anymore. The most important thing is that we will be completing the international airport at Argyle and in short time we will have it opened for persons to fly out and to fly in," McKie said.

RUNWAY TO BE COMPLETED

But much work still remains to be done, including the paving of the runway, completion of the control tower and aircraft rescue and fire station.

"We are working steadfastly to complete this international airport - well, I say substantial completion of this airport project - by December this year," said IADC Chief Executive Officer Rudolph Matthias.

Bradley Francis, chief executive officer of Franco Construction, developers of the terminal building on which construction began in January, said his firm has sought an extension of the completion deadline because some changes were made to the design.

"And we anticipate practical completion by the 15th of September," he said.

Areonav, the Canadian firm that won the contract to build the cabin at the top of the tower, arrived in St Vincent last week, said Francis.

"All the bolts are up in place, while the finishing work is going on inside," he said.

Areonav's spokesman, Richard Lubang, said his crew would begin installation of the control tower next week, and that the job would take 10 to 12 weeks to complete.

"... Afterwards, we will come in and do the electronics and what-not to get this tower finished and up and running soon," he said.

The Barbadian firm, Innotech Services Limited, which is constructing the aircraft rescue and fire station, said it has procured all the necessary material, and expects to start working on its side of the project in October, according to project manager Anderson Yarde.

Matthias said IADC expects Innotech to meet the completion deadline.

"I expect that Innotech will complete this building and hand it over to us so that we can start the process of preparing ourselves for the operational phase of the airport," he said.

Cuban engineer Alfredo Hernandez Garcia said it will take 17,562 cubic metres of concrete to pave the main commercial apron.

At the end of July, workers had already poured 2,576 cubic metres of concrete, or 367 concrete slabs.

"The only limiting factor that we have in meeting this plan is the weather conditions. Once it rains, we have to wait 24 hours before we can place any concrete. We have to meet this requirement, because, for us, the most important thing is the quality," Garcia said.

- CMC