Bad weather slows construction of Wakenaam airstrip

Construction of the Wakenaam airstrip is moving at a snail’s pace and bad weather is cited as the main delaying factor.

Region Three Chairman Julius Faerber told Stabroek News last week that a substantial part of the project had been completed but inclement weather was currently stalling work at the site, close to the villages of Meer-Zorg and Maria’s Pleasure on the eastern side of the island.

He said he had spoken to the contractor recently about the project and he indicated that the surface of the strip was almost completed, but a few days of adequate sunshine was needed for bitumen to be laid on the surface. Residents on the Essequibo River island told this newspaper that the roads leading to the area where the project is being undertaken are impassable and motorists have desisted from using them over the past few weeks.

Faerber said contracts have been awarded to the contractor constructing the airstrip — Komal Singh of the West Coast Demerara, to renovate the roads around the island.  Construction of the $54.5 million airstrip was expected to be completed within a five-month period after work commenced on the 2,000 feet long by 50 feet wide runway in January this year. According to a resident in the area, it is being built “in a far off place, where people don’t normally go.”

Wakenaam residents had previously voiced concern about the project, saying that the island needed of other forms of development rather than an airstrip. They cited the high rate of unemployment, fragile sea defence, and the development of the island’s agricultural potential as well as the need for a water treatment plant as priorities that needed to be addressed.

Residents on the sister island Leguan had objected to the construction of an airstrip there as well and according to the regional administration, the region is still in the process of sourcing land for that project. Works Minister Robeson Benn stated in February during the budget debate that the required land for the airstrip at Leguan would have to meet the requisite geographic conformity for the project to get underway.

In this year’s budget, some $149.9 million were allocated towards the construction of the two airstrips, in addition to rehabilitation and maintenance work on other airstrips across the country. In the 2009 Budget, some $184 million was allocated for the projects but they never got underway and the authorities had said that the delay was related to the acquisition of land.

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