Business owners and residents of Eteringbang, Region Seven, have been left in a state of uncertainty following the “abrupt” closure of the Eteringbang Airstrip last Friday afternoon.
While Stabroek News was informed that the closure was due to the undertaking of much needed repairs, numerous attempts to solicit a comment from the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCCA) on the situation over the past week have all proven futile. The GCCA, in a subsequent response, formally declined to comment.
Based on reports reaching this newspaper, rumours of plans to close the airstrip had circulated throughout Eteringbang some two weeks ago. But as the days went by and no formal announcement was made, a group of concerned business owners moved to have an ad published in which they called on the relevant authorities to properly engage them on the issue.
Their calls have since intensified following the issuance of a notice of the airstrip’s closure to aircraft operators just after 5 pm last Friday, which stated that the closure would be in effect for the next three months.
This prompted the business owners to issue another call for the relevant authorities to properly engage them, since they are now at a loss as to whether any contingent plans are in place to support both businesses and the daily life within the community.
“We the miners, business persons and residents who utilize the Eteringbang Airstrip to support our businesses are extremely disappointed with the manner in which our airstrip was closed on March 24, 2017, for a period of three months. The notice was sent out to aircraft operators at 17:05 hours on March 24, 2017; there was no communication to us, the miners, business persons and residents who depend so much on this airstrip,” they said in an ad.
“This behavior by the Government is totally unacceptable and we are calling on them to review their position and put in place contingency measures for us,” it added.
One concerned businessman, who spoke to Stabroek News on the condition of anonymity, said residents and those in the business community are now left to contemplate the way forward since the closure of the airstrip will significantly affect the community and businesses alike.
As the main access point into Eteringbang, the airstrip not only facilitates the transportation of persons in and out of the area, but it also acts as a vital transit base for fuel, food supplies and other cargo deemed essential to mining operations in the area.
“This is unacceptable; we don’t know what is going to happen now but we are calling on the authorities to engage us on whether there are any measures in place for us while the airstrip is closed,” the businessman added.
In the 2016 budget, over $1 billion was budgeted to upgrade hinterland airstrips, including those in Eteringbang and Kurupung, Region 7; Paramakatoi, Kato, Kopinang, Monkey Mountain, and Mahdia in Region 8, and Annai, Region 9.
Based on a notice issued by the Aeronautical Information Service of the GCCA and seen by this newspaper, several of the aforementioned aerodromes are also undergoing repairs, including Annai in Region 9, as well as Paramakatoi, Kopinang and Kato in Region 8.
However, Eteringbang is the only one that has been closed, as the others simply instructed pilots to “operate with extreme caution due to work in progress.”
In the past, the businessman noted all repairs to the airstrip were done by residents and business owners, as they took it upon themselves to drain the area whenever it became waterlogged by the rain, and they would even fill existing depressions on the strip with laterite.
And though he acknowledged that the airstrip is in need of rehabilitation, the businessman expressed disappointment with the lack of communication between the authorities and those who would be affected by the closure.
“I observed some works whereby the contractor has started grading the airstrip and widening the sides for expanded clearance, but again I say, there was no meeting to inform residents about the closure. We did not know when they were going to close it and for how long, and that’s just not the way you do things… aircraft operators were not informed until the afternoon itself,” he remarked.
Stabroek News was able to confirm with an official from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure that work to rehabilitate the airstrip had commenced. However, he was unable to say why a decision to close the aerodrome had been made. The authoritative agency responsible for such decisions, he said, is the GCCA.