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Sunday, July 21, 2024


Ground was officially broken Wednesday for what some people are saying could be the most important project ever for the Virgin Islands: the extension of the runway at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix.
The V.I. Port Authority hosted the ceremony at the foot of the airport’s existing runway Tuesday morning as heavy equipment worked in the distance on the first phase of construction. The four-phase, $18-million project will extend the existing runway from 7,600 feet to 10,000 feet and is 90 percent federally funded.
"The project will be bidded and issued as federal funds are available," said Gordon Finch, Port Authority executive director. "The bottom line is that it’s our hope to complete the runway sometime in calendar year 2001."
The extension project has been on the drawing board for years with the goal of accommodating the larger, long-range aircraft operated by major airlines and charter operations. Once completed, the runway will allow non-stop turnaround service to the V.I. from Europe, North America and South America, said Peter Ross, president of the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association.
"It’s singularly the most important thing economically that has happened to St. Croix," Ross said. "(Airlines) can take off fully loaded with passengers and fuel. It will enable us to get non-stop service from the West Coast, Latin America and Europe."
Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II echoed Ross’ statements. He said that currently, long-distance flights leaving from St. Croix’s must refuel in Puerto Rico to continue on.
"Charters don’t want to make intermediate stops," James said. "This is a unique opportunity for St. Croix to become a gateway not just into the Virgin Islands but into the Caribbean."
The project, however positive, was still "bittersweet", Finch said. To accommodate the runway extension and meet safety requirements some 65 families in Yellow Cedar have been displaced. A similar situation occurred when the Port Authority had to take 18 properties when the existing runway was constructed, Finch said.
The past takings were settled without the Port Authority having to declare imminent domain, he said. Money has been set aside to resettle the displaced residents in Yellow Cedar.
"The law allows for the dispossession of the few for the greater good," Finch said.
Meanwhile, the millions of dollars granted to the Port Authority for the runway extension could turn into loans if the nearby Anguilla Landfill isn’t closed by Dec. 2002. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered that the dump be closed because birds that feed off of it pose a threat to aircraft. The dump also frequently catches on fire, sending dark smoke in the direction of the airport.
"All the discretionary (runway) funding is FAA funding," Finch said. "The landfill plays an integral part in the process" if it is not closed, Finch said. "The grants could very well turn into loans."
Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson said the department is preparing a request for proposals for a comprehensive solidwaste facility to replace Anguilla. The RFP will be released in January, he said.
"It’s not another study," Thompson said. "It’s for an actual facility."
The first phase of the runway construction includes site preparation, clearing, excavation and storm drainage. The other phases include paving, lighting and navigational aids relocation; land acquisition; and a new air traffic control tower.

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