On the afternoon of April 3 at the Road Town Public Library, I heard about a major yacht and marina owner in the territory who is ecstatic at the prospect of long distance commercial flights landing at Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. The businessman owns one of the largest marinas, dry docks, and yacht moorings in the territory: enough said!
Apparently, the marine entrepreneur has firsthand knowledge of a global yachting and boating jet set: sports lovers, pleasure seekers and adventurers who are more than happy to grace the yachting capital of the world, but who also want greater ease of access into the territory via direct flights from key European capitals. This businessman reportedly asserted that in the past, he had lost much business owing to travellers frustrated at the “hindrances” of getting into the Virgin Islands.
Now, on an opposite note, a young, dear and lovely daughter of this territory confronted me recently with the assertion that I have gone overboard with this airport expansion thing. “Mr. Igwe, when will you stop these commentaries on developing the airport, and talk instead about more important matters, such as the need for a proper hospital, fixing the pot holes in the roads, building a better drainage and sewage system, issues with law and order, and the like?” she asked. “The airport should not be a priority at this time, Mr. Igwe: The country has more pressing concerns.”
‘Punch in the gut’
Coming from this very bright and elegant lady, this was a punch in the gut. Knowing her keen political intelligence, I was actually tempted to throw in the towel on the matter. But alas, that quiet voice from deep within spoke, and in time. It told me that I was right and she was wrong on this matter.
What that quiet voice said was this: Development is an integrated concept. Building a 21st Century airport and seaports, a state-of-the-art hospital, and better roads are all mutually inclusive ideas: That is, they fit perfectly together. The airport that receives flights and travellers from all over the world complements the completion of a critical hospital facility should the unthinkable happen, and vice versa. And both developments are dependent upon an efficient road network and public transportation, including a new ferry shuttle infrastructure with a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week-type scheduling, plugging the territory into the United States’ critical travel facilities on St. Thomas and Puerto Rico.
And yes, hotel and guesthouse owners had better start thinking about building more rooms and increasing their capacity for a major increase in visitors from all over the world, especially when they start to fly in directly from the world’s capitals and major population centres. Add to that a significant increase in entries from the United States Virgin Islands when the new West End ferry dock is completed.
The integrated development concept demands doing several things at the same time: dealing with the sewage crisis; building a state-of-the-art cruise ship village and reception facility as recently proposed; and developing the social and physical infrastructure. Yes, cost considerations are paramount, but if intelligently managed, money will be available over the coming years for the crucial development needed to allow these islands to compete at a global level and enter the 21st Century with its head held high.
A new integrated development model for these islands also means building into the development equation a green technology paradigm; adding renewable and clean energy; and reforming education.
On a related matter, US investor Warren Buffet put it this way in an April 2 article on Bloomberg: “Companies won’t last if they fail to consider the impact of their businesses on the environment. Taking shortcuts is not the pathway to achieving sustainable competitive advantage, nor is it an avenue toward satisfying customers.” For Mr. Buffett, the key ingredients of business profitability in a new world increasingly driven by green economics and clean renewable energy are “people, communities, and the environment.” This, coming out of the mouth of a “super capitalist,” was an incredible thing.
Mr. Buffet is betting on “railroads and renewable energy” driving the US economic future, and he believes “demand will climb for products and services that are less harmful to the planet.”
Recently, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting with a renewable energy expert, who convinced me that the territory needs to transform to a green economy very swiftly indeed if it is to proceed to the next stage in its development.
Similarly, a VI government minister recently spoke about a new thinking necessary if certain developmental goals are to be realised, especially with regard to a new renewable energy dynamic here.
In the coming decades, this likely will mean privatisation of large swathes of the public sector in the VI and the introduction of a new private enterprise and laissez faire business culture into a national modus vivendi that has looked to government as the be all and end all in past decades.
It will entail the liberalisation, and even full privatisation, of electrical generation and energy production on a national scale. Also necessary will be encouraging through government incentives and private investment new green businesses: converting waste and sewage into usable energy; converting human waste into fertiliser for solar-powered greenhouses and farms at Paraquita Bay and the rest of the territory; implementing environment-friendly waste disposal; and passing new legislation enabling large businesses to install solar, wind and co-generation technologies on their premises.
A radical overhaul of the electricity grid is also necessary, allowing consumers choice and control over their energy provision requirements. Renewable energies such as solar and wind should be used to power a significant proportion of the national energy use, and government owned and managed assets, including street lighting, a new expanded airport facility, the hospital, the college, schools, sea ports, government agricultural projects, and so on.
Meanwhile, residents’ personal habits will have to change and improve to help preserve scarce water, recycle waste, and conserve household energy. This will entail such measures as shopping with reusable bags and banning certain plastic and environmentally harmful products from the consumer chain altogether. Add the introduction of a public transportation system that in the coming years may see electric buses, safaris, taxis and even ferries that use a mix of electricity, solar, and biofuels, such as ethanol.
Finally, the VI should create a more pedestrian-oriented town dynamic, with large swathes of Road Town off limits to motorists and only the most essential transport allowed into the inner perimeter of the capital.
Yes, the escalator into the green future has been switched on. The territory must either step on or get left behind.