The government has allocated EC$74.7 million, about a quarter of this year’s capital budget, for the completion of the construction of the EC$729 million Argyle International Airport, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in his Budget Address.
The airport has missed several completion deadlines, the most recent being December 2014, but Gonsalves told Parliament it “will be completed this year and ready for operation”.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said a portion of the EC$74.7 million is the remainder of the US$9.5 million (EC$25.6 million) long outstanding on the US$20 million sale of lands to developers in the southern Grenadine island of Canouan.
He said he was reliably advised recently that the money would be paid within six weeks or thereabout.
Gonsalves said that delays in the timely receipt by the International Airport Development Company (IADC) — the state-owned firm responsible for building the airport — of negotiated resources and excessively inclement weather have hampered the pace of construction of the airport.
The government had said that the airport would have been “substantially complete” at the end of 2014.
“As always, our government makes contingency plans in the event of the delay in the draw-down of grants or soft-loans. This has been a constant factor in the life of the airport’s construction,” Gonsalves said.
He told Parliament that the earthworks are 97 per cent complete, and the earthworks that remain to be done “will be carried out without any real inconvenience to the parallel Airside Works”.
These earthworks are scheduled to be completed by the end of March.
The Yambou River runs across the runway, and Gonsalves said that work on the drainage system to accommodate this waterway are programmed for completion by the end of April to allow for the asphalt pavement works on that section of the runway to be done.
He said the on-going work on other drainage systems continued during 2014 and are substantially advanced and programmed to be completed in the first quarter of this year.
“The pavement works have already commenced with the placement of the base and sub-base for the runway, aprons and taxiways.
“The asphalt pavement works and the concrete works on the aerodrome are programmed to be completed by the end of May 2015,” Gonsalves told Parliament.
He said the process of installing the airfield lighting has begun and is “progressing well”.
“And the wind studies continue; data show, thus far, no crosswind sufficient to affect the safe operation of the Argyle Airport for the smallest of aeroplanes, that is, those whose reference field length is less than 1,200 metres. In the first half of 2015, the IADC will again provide all the up-to-date win data and analysis for public information,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves further said that marketing of the airport continues apace.
“Several airlines have expressed interest in adding St. Vincent and the Grenadines to their routes. Air services agreements are expected in the first half of 2015 with several of them,” he said, adding, “Similarly, plans have been elaborated for the finalisation in respect of management of the airport”.
Gonsalves said that in 2014 the IADC hired 201 new Vincentian workers, bringing to 393 the number of Vincentians employed directly by the IADC since the project began in 2008.
Of these workers, 252 are daily-paid, and 67 are technical and administrative staff. There are 102 Cubans working on the airport project, Gonsalves said.
He said that up to Dec. 14, 2014, the IADC hired 131 trucks and five pieces of heavy equipment and has paid EC$5.85 to the owners of these vehicles.
The Budget Debate is continuing.