New Wesley group complains of lack of transparency of plans to build international airport
Villagers of Wesley have complained about the lack of transparency and of the absence of development plans for the building of Dominica's first international airport near Wesley.
At the second meeting of the Steering Committee of the Wesley Development Organisation (WEDO) last week members focused on the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act and the rights of persons whose lands have been acquired by government to build the airport.
"The two-hour event … aimed at strengthening public awareness on issues related to the planned construction of a jet runway through major residential areas of the community," wrote David Edwards in a press statement.
WEDO said it is concerned that "with the exception of select residents there were no consultations with the community and that the acquisitions were executed under a veil of secrecy".
Edwards wrote that the group "noted that there is no evidence that an Assessment Board has been established as a prerequisite for the commencement of negotiations for compensation" and there was a general "lack of transparency with regards to the planned International Airport Project" and that WEDCO has noted that government has failed "to undertake the suite of technical studies that are needed to inform decisions on the siting of a runway and the designated areas for land acquisition".
The building of an international airport has been a controversial issue for decades. The last effort was undertaken by the United Workers Party (UWP) administration of Edison James (1995 to 2000) but the site and other development plans have been rejected by this current Dominica Labour Party administration.
During the aborted attempt at building the airport, because the UWP lost the 2000 election, some factions in Wesley opposed the building of the airport in Wesley. The Sun reported in July 12, 1999 the government had spent EC$16 million to acquire the Londonderry Estate for the construction of an international airport.
"Government and owners of Londonderry Estate reach agreement but "tenants" say they won't be moving easily," the paper reported one year before the UWP lost the election.
The article continued: "Government has paid EC$16 million to the heirs of the deceased F.A. Laville, the owner of Londonderry Estate, construction of the international airport. But tenants and squatters say they will not move come hell or high water.
"Government and the administrators of the estate, Marie Joan Armour and Rose Aird, recently concluded negotiations for the purchase of the 663-acre estate, an informed source told The Sun. The landowners originally requested EC$43.8 million. Negotiating on behalf of the heirs were Mr. Jim Robinson, P. Munro and Attorney-at-Law Anthony Astaphan. Lands and Surveys Director, Livingston Cassell negotiated on behalf of Government.
"Government has indicated it is going ahead with its for the construction of a US$110 million international airport. Ground breaking for this major project is expected to begin in March 2000. There has been much opposition to the site government has selected and especially the social hardships that the construction will cause to residents of the area."
The article concluded: "Though the airport will not be located in the Londonderry area, Government has zoned the estate for tourism, industrial and agricultural development.
"Meanwhile Government last week began talking to 166 Wesley and Woodford Hill farmers whose lands will be used for the construction of the airport. Seventy-two of the 166 farmers say they want cash for their land".
About 20 years later, the issue of land acquisition has arisen again.
Last week WEDO wrote: "Government's refusal to advance justifications for the rejection of formerly selected sites, its inability to provide a zonal plan that clearly illustrates all acquired land on the eastern section of the community and the apparent absence of a comprehensive airport development plan were also underscored as outstanding issues.