KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Minister of Transport and Works Sen. Julian Francis is “not one of those romantic types” who pronounce on the beauty of old buildings.
But, having seen Kingstown — marketed as “the City of Arches and Cobblestones” — lose two of its traditional arch bridges, including one under his watch, Francis now opposes technocrats in his ministry who want to replace the bridge at Fort Charlotte with a modern one.
The 600-foot high fort, located just to the west of Kingstown, was constructed in 1806 and the Ministry of Transport and Works have been mulling over what to do about the bridge there, which needs repairing and has a 4-tonne weight limitation.
Francis, responding in Parliament last week to a question from West Kingstown representative, opposition legislator Daniel Cummings, said that repair of the bridge was not included in this year’s estimate because of the differences in opinions within his Ministry about what to do about the bridge.
The Chief Engineer and other ministry officials, he said, have suggested that a modern bridge be built at Fort Charlotte.
“I am of a different view, Mr. Speaker. As the minister, I believe a modern day bridge structure, next to this beautiful structure that we have there that can be repaired, will detract from the value and aesthetics of old bridge,” Francis said.
He said that he believes that the ministry should proceed with professional advice on the existing bridge and make it even more unique by continuing the weight limitation.
“In other words, make it a unique tourism project that there could be a cart — there could be something on the other side — to take them up to Fort Charlotte in a more touristic style,” Francis said.
Louise Mitchell-Joseph and the National Trust, which she heads, have applied to the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Presentation through the U.S. Embassy for funding of the renewal of Fort Charlotte, including the bridge, Francis said.
According to Francis, a consultant has advised that the bridge was well constructed and is “similar to other bridges in Europe that have been there for thousands of years and the lifespan of this bridge can be included in this category because of its fantastic structure”.
“Sometimes, I am referred to as ‘the Philistine’ in the whole matter of architecture, aesthetics and old buildings and so on. But we lost two bridges in Kingstown,” Francis said in reference to the bridges along South River Road in Kingstown that were replaced with modern concrete structures.
“… Two beautiful arch bridges were destroyed in the process. I don’t think we should extent that to Fort Charlotte,” he said.
“In fact, if you go to Cane Garden, Mr. Speaker, on a clear day, you will see the entire formation of that bridge in between those two hills; a beautiful site for sore eye. And I am not one of those romantic types, who describe these things like that, but I must admit that it is a beautiful structure and very picturesque,” Francis further stated.
“I see it as an entire project, … while there might be some inconvenience …” he further stated, added that of the EC$1 million expected to be spent on the restoration of the fort, US$100,000 is earmarked for the bridge.
“And thereafter, the National Trust and the Ministry of Tourism will design something to live with that bridge and keep it as a national monument,” he further said.