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Protest at airport plan

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Protesters at City Hall today (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)

The One Bermuda Alliance faced another demonstration — as well as tough questions from its own supporters — over the airport redevelopment yesterday.

More than 100 people, many chanting and waving placards, gathered outside City Hall to protest against the Bermuda Government and Canadian developer Aecon’s $250 million plan.

Inside the building, finance minister Bob Richards faced a series of probing questions from OBA members after he delivered a presentation on the subject.

Even the choice of venue became a source of controversy, with the City of Hamilton announcing shortly beforehand that its building should not be used for political purposes and they had been unaware of the meeting.

However, it went ahead in the Bermuda National Gallery and, although OBA members later acknowledged Mr Richards had provided good information, many were said to still have qualms at the end.

The minister repeated his pledge to reveal all after the deal is finalised at the end of the summer, and once again stressed the urgency of upgrading L.F. Wade International Airport.

Many protesters outside were upset that the meeting was for OBA members only but Mr Richards later told The Royal Gazette he had said nothing that he had not said in previous meetings.

“I will continue to talk to small groups,” he said. “I will have a number of meetings to the public when there is some real, substantial progress to report.

“I haven’t conveyed anything to these folks that I haven’t conveyed before publicly. It’s just that the noise has drowned out the message. In this case I was able to have a message that was not drowned out by noise.”

Other Cabinet ministers present included Michael Dunkley, the Premier, Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, Craig Cannonier and Senator Jeff Baron.

Before entering the meeting, Mr Dunkley told this newspaper: “The people are entitled to the freedom of speech, but it’s got to be done in the right way. Intimidation and all of that just doesn’t wash in today’s world.”

Leaving the meeting, the Premier said: “The people inside are enjoying the session, and I applaud them for coming out and having to put up with some extracurricular activities on the way.”

Campaigners were carrying placards with slogans such as “Enough is enough” and “We’re tired of being hoodwinked”, and chants included “Aecon is a con” and “No airport deal”. About 20 police officers were present throughout the evening, but the event remained peaceful.

One protester, Sandi Gilbert from Pembroke, told this newspaper: “We don’t think the airport should be going through, and I think it’s wrong that the OBA are having a meeting with their members to discuss what they’re doing with the airport when they should be telling the people.”

Meanwhile, a 78-year-old demonstrator questioned the cost of the heavy police presence, asking: “Is the bill being sent to the organisers of the meeting? Don’t tell me to pay taxes to a police officer to perform a function where I’m restricted from going in. It’s not fair.”

Some also criticised Hamilton mayor Charles Gosling for allowing City Hall to be used for the occasion.

“This place is not supposed to be rented out to a political party. Now they’re banning the public that pays to keep this place running,” one female protester said.

At about 3pm, a few hours before Mr Richards was due to begin his presentation, the City of Hamilton released a statement saying: “The City of Hamilton has a policy that does not allow for events of a political nature to be held at City Hall or on/in any other City-owned property.

“The City regrets the fact that one of its tenants was unaware of this policy. We have taken steps to ensure that they are fully informed.

“City Hall continues to adhere to said policy and looks forward to receiving its tenants’ support moving forward.”

Chief operating officer Edward Benevides later added: “The Bermuda National Gallery has rented out their area to a private function which they are entitled to do without having to get the landlord’s permission.

“Had they been aware of the policy they may or may not have asked us if they could move forward. However, they were not and accepted a rental of their space.

“Going forward I am certain there will be more dialogue between tenant and landlord to determine an amicable way forward that will allow their funding efforts and prove to be less embarrassing to the landlord.”

The Bermuda Police Service said in a statement: “The Bermuda Police Service were made aware thereafter that planned protests were to take place at this same location in objection to the OBA’s plans to construct a new airport.

“Police attended City Hall in anticipation of a peaceful protest. We have an excellent professional relationship with the Corporation and committed to working with them to ensure the event took place in a manner that was both lawful and safe for participants and visitors to City Hall alike.”

Protesters against the airport redevelopment project at the City Hall today (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)
Police at City Hall before the One Bermuda Alliance meeting on the airport development (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Bob Richards, the finance minister (File photograph)
Police outside City Hall awaiting the arrival of protesters (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)