I have been gratified by the growing realization that the Grand Bahama International Airport is an essential instrument and is centrifugal to the rehabilitation and revitalization of the Grand Bahama economy.
Without this, our Industrial Plant will wither and die and our efforts to revive the Tourism Sector will fail! It has even been said that without an International Airport, Grand Bahama will become another Andros.
Aside from the obvious need for an immediate “Marshall Plan” for there habilitation/rebuild of the 4,000 Freeport homes and the schools made unlivable by Dorian, (more on that later!) the most urgent and critical need is for the rebuilding of the Grand Bahama International Airport which needs to commence immediately.
Thus, the building of a new Airport Terminal in the shortest possible time must be of prime importance to the re-construction of Freeport, specifically to the plans at hand (pre Dorian) for the revitalization of the Tourism Product via the Carnival Cruise Port and the RCL/ITM Harbour and Hospitality Investments to include the re-opening of the Grand Lucayan Hotel. These Plans and Goals are unattainable without the Airport!
For the reasons mentioned above, I would submit this Airport is in the nature of an Essential Service to Grand Bahama and the Bahamian people.
This issue has become more complicated because of the players involved: Hutchison is the 50% owner of the Airport with management control, the Port Group (St. George and Hayward Families) are the other 50% owners.
Historically, Hutchison certainly understood the critical need for the International Terminal when in 2004, after the double hurricanes (Frances & Jean) the present Airport terminal (since, again destroyed by Dorian) had to be rebuilt and the story is that their 50% partners, the Port Authority, (then Edward St. George and Sir Jack Hayward) put up their hands and said that they did not have the money. Hutchison had to find the money (the Port’s share) being some $20Million which was accorded by Hutchison to the Port Group as a Loan.
Hutchison did collect the Loan after some years out of a later Hurricane Insurance settlement but this was one of the reasons there has been increased bad blood between Hutchison and the Families ever since.
Fast forward to today, the Airport Terminal is again a disaster and Hutchison have reportedly said since Dorian, they want to sell up everything in Freeport and leave (this is good for Freeport but that’s another story). The Families will no doubt again put up their hands and say they have no money.
But we can be sure that Hutchison will not come to the rescue this time as they wish to exit Grand Bahama in any event and they have shown, especially since the Grand Lucayan, they have no empathy for Freeport or Bahamians at all.
I submit the Families and Hutchison Whampoa have a judiciary and moral obligation to ensure the preservation, protection, development and repair of the City to particularly include its residents and investors.
But indeed in this case, we may be saved as the Families Do have money: the Carnival Cruise Port deal (HOA signed on the 25th September) has not yet closed so that the Proceeds of the Sale of the Sharp Rocks Tract by the Families to Carnival (I would guess at least $30Million) would be ready to be paid!
The Families will argue that Sharp Rocks is not a Port Authority asset as it is owned by the Families personally but I would submit this is a specious argument given the obligations of the Families to Freeport under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement (HCA) and their own substantial interest in saving Freeport and thus themselves.
One would hope they would readily agree these Funds be utilized for the Airport. But I doubt it!!
I would respectfully suggest that the Government should immediately commence talks with the Port Authority (the Families) and obtain from them the following:-
- That the Families and Hutchison both agree that the Airport Insurance proceeds be fully utilized in the rebuilding of the Terminal on an urgent basis.
- That the Families immediately produce their own Economic and Action Plan for the revitalization and rehabilitation of the City of Freeport to include the Airport which probably will assist the Government in its own Master Plan in this regard;
- Specifically, the Families agreement to sequester or escrow or dedicate the Sharp Rock Funds necessary to finance the shortfall of cash to Insurance proceeds needed to design and build a new International (and Local) Terminal at the very earliest opportunity.
I submit that if the Sharp Rocks monies cannot be utilized, then it is the Port’s problem to find the funds: they can mortgage or sell their one-half ownership of the very lucrative Grand Bahama Harbour Company, Grand Bahama Utilities (the Water Company) and their interest in the Sanitation/Garbage Company/LUSCO.
The Airport Terminal is an absolute priority!
I should note here that if Hutchison and the Families readily agree to and earmark funds for the Airport Terminal and to commence reconstruction then my fears will have proven groundless and I apologize.
As an aside, if this issue is not quickly resolved, I believe the Government would be entitled going forward to receive copies of the Audited Statements of these public services companies including the Harbour Company, the Grand Bahama Utility and Sanitation (Garbage) Company as being essential services to the Bahamian Public.
P.S.There is much talk of the Government or an Investor such as RCL purchasing the Airport from Hutchison and the Port Group. This would be very good but unless this can happen quickly, we need to get the parties ultimately responsible to do the right thing and act now.