HAMILTON, Bermuda, Feb 16, CMC – The Senate has approved controversial government plans for a new airport terminal which is expected to be completed in 2020.
While the three opposition Progressive Labour Party (PLP) members voted against one of two bills crucial to the project late Wednesday , the five ruling One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) senators and three independents appointed by the Governor gave them the green light.
The PLP trio objected to the Bermuda Airport Authority Act 2017 but there were no objections to the passing of the Airport Redevelopment Concessions Act 2017.
The bills had narrowly been approved early on Saturday by the House of Assembly – 18 votes to 16 – after a marathon debate.
Last December, a group of over one thousand protesters prevented MPs from entering the House to debate the bills. Police in riot gear used pepper spray in a bid to disperse the demonstrators, leading Speaker of the House Randy Horton to adjourn proceedings until earlier this month.
In 2014, the OBA announced that it had agreed a 30-year public-private partnership (PPP) deal with the Canadian government through Canadian Commercial Corporation and Aecon, the Canadian contractor, to build a new terminal at the L.F. Wade International Airport. The current terminal is prone to suffering leaks during storms.
The two political parties have been engaged in a bitter wrangle over the pros and cons of a new terminal ever since the project was unveiled.
The OBA has repeatedly said its PPP deal with Aecon will give the island a desperately needed new airport without adding to its debt, while the PLP has aggressively attacked the move as privatisation, saying it will see airport revenues disappear overseas, and touting renovations as an alternative.
Finance Minister Bob Richards told the House last Friday that the new terminal would cost US$302 million and take 40 months to build.
The first bill, he said, would create the Bermuda Airport Authority. This would take over responsibility for the general administration, control and management of the L.F. Wade International Airport and oversee the redevelopment of the facility by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, and its maintenance and operation by Bermuda Skyport Corporation Ltd.
Renee Ming, the PLP’s Senate Leader, cited what she perceived as the project’s lack of transparency.
“How can this be a partnership when the public is kept out of the partner’s business and how can we sit here today to make a fair assessment of a deal we don’t have all the details for,” she said.
Fahy addressed such concerns, saying: “More information has been disclosed to the public in this transaction than any other in the history of Bermuda. Any claim otherwise is strictly political theatre, nothing more.”
President of the Senate, Carol Ann Bassett, echoed his remarks at the end of the debate, saying she had not seen such transparency on a project in her 13 years in the Upper House.
Government senator Jeff Baron, the Minister of National Security, said debates on the airport project over the past two years have ranged from mundane to profane, blaming politics for making the issue as heated as it has become.
Government senator Lynn Woolridge said that to patch up the current airport with renovations amounted to “throwing good money after bad”.