DURING WORLD War II, the American Government obtained land in Jamaica and other British colonies in this region from England, in exchange for 50 old naval ships to help Britain defend itself from Germany.
The land, about 33 square miles, chosen in Jamaica was in southern Clarendon at Portland Bight. Construction of the air and naval base began in early 1941.
About 500 men carpenters, welders, electricians, painters, masons and other skilled artisans travelled by train, Mondays to Saturdays, from Kingston to Four Paths in Clarendon. From there they travelled by trucks to and from the site. During the day, these trucks carried lumber, cement, rolls of mesh and electrical wire, glass and other material up and down between the Four Paths Railway Station and Portland Bight.
Now these trucks were owned or contracted by the Lawson Brothers Gifford and Alvin who had operated a citrus packing factory in the village before the war. For years they had been employing women from the village, drivers and sidemen, electricians, carpenters and other workers in the factory.
The trade with New Zealand came to an end when the ships, which carried the citrus, were diverted to military use.
The construction of the U.S. air and naval base was therefore a blessing for these workers.
BUSINESS ACTIVITY BOOMED
Property values in south Claren-don increased. Many of the men from Kingston decided to buy land and build houses in Four Paths, May Pen, Denbigh and other villages and towns in the area. Business activity boomed.
When the theatre of military activity moved from Europe to the Pacific, the Americans closed the base. The infrastructure has remained, and it is because of this and other factors that various persons including politician Mike Henry have been advocating the use of Vernam-field as an airport again.
As a child I saw the economy of this area change and improve. And driving through this area in recent months leads me to believe that there is a bright future for this region. But we should begin to plan for it.
With the resuscitation of the airport, security facilities such as police and coast guard services will be necessary. Both the Alley and May Pen public hospitals will have to be enlarged. A major post office will be needed.
This will also be a golden opportunity for the Milk River Mineral Baths. It should be leased to imaginative businessmen and women who can market it and use the airport and former naval facilities to bring in guests.
The private sector should be planning to construct plazas with pharmacies, a commercial bank, dry cleaning establishments and supermarkets. Developers should begin thinking and planning where to build housing projects, petrol stations, nightclubs and hotels.
A Vernamfield area development authority should be established and set the task of organising and planning this development. It should not happen in a haphazard manner. We need a visionary to pull together this multi-billion-dollar development project.