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Airport gets green light from Senate

LF Wade International Airport (File photograph)

Bermuda is to push ahead with plans to develop a new airport after two Bills crucial to the project were passed in the Senate last night.

While all Progressive Labour Party senators voted against the Bermuda Airport Authority Act 2017 the Bill was supported by all government and independent senators and there were no objections to the passing of the Airport Redevelopment Concessions Act 2017.

After a spirited debate, opened with senator and transport minister Michael Fahy saying that an unprecedented level of misinformation had been released, the Upper House came down to a vote shortly after 6.20pm.

The first Bill, he said, would create the Bermuda Airport Authority. This would take over responsibility for the general administration, control and management of LF Wade International Airport and oversee the redevelopment of the facility by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, and its maintenance and operation by Bermuda Skyport Corporation Ltd.

Several issues were raised throughout the session starting with Progressive Labour Party Leader in the Senate Renee Ming citing what she perceived as the project’s lack of transparency.

“How can this be a partnership when the public is kept out of the partner’s business and how can we sit here today to make a fair assessment of a deal we don’t have all the details for,” she pressed.

Mr Fahy addressed such concerns raised saying: “More information has been disclosed to the public in this transaction than any other in the history of Bermuda. Any claim otherwise is strictly political theatre, nothing more.” President of the Senate Carol Ann Bassett echoed his remarks in her speech at the end of the debate saying she had not seen such transparency on a project in her 13 years in the Senate.

The One Bermuda Alliance’s Jeffrey Baron said the debates on the airport project over the last two years have ranged from mundane to profane, blaming politics for making the issue as heated as it has become.

Meanwhile independent senator James Jardine said he hoped that Government would consider a Joint Select Committee to review controversial legislation such as the airport project before it reaches the House of Assembly so that they can be fully and frankly discussed at an earlier stage.

Mr Jardine largely welcomed the Bills saying he was confident that the government to government option made the most financial and economic sense under the circumstances.

The senator did raise concern about the minimum revenue guarantee designed to protect equity and debt holders should air traffic arrivals not meet expectations. Such a scenario would leave Bermuda liable to foot the difference, but Mr Jardine said he had had reassuring conversations with the government with regards to taking out insurance coverage. “This is a risk that I believe Bermuda should mitigate,” he said.

On the subject of the guarantee, Mr Fahy said Bermuda should not be put off by uncertain air arrival numbers. “If that is the way we engage with major projects we would never build anything.”

OBA Senator Lynn Woolridge said that to patch up the airport with renovations amounted to “throwing good money after bad.” She spoke on how the Opposition had persistently moved the goalposts on its reception of the deal saying at first the idea was attacked, then the process and now the “rallying cry against privatisation”. But she stressed that under the deal, Bermuda would retain control of the airport which would not have been the case with full privatisation.

The PLP’s Tinee Furbert opened her comments by saying that her husband worked at the airport and while she was “concerned” about the conditions under which he had to work, she was also concerned with the causeway and other areas of Bermuda’s infrastructure that needed attention.

Newly appointed Senator Andrew Simons said he had asked himself whether Bermuda needs a new airport, what type of airport it needs and how it should be paid for. “Yes we do” was the answer to his first question describing the facility as “critical infrastructure”. He said while we did not need a “temple for manned flight”, Bermuda did need a modern, safe and accessible facility. And speaking on funding he said Bermuda did not have the capacity to incur further debt when interest rates are connected to risk. PLP Senator Kim Wilkerson insisted that her party “was not being disagreeable for the sake of being disagreeable” in its wide-ranging opposition to the deal but that it felt unable to fulfil its obligations to the people of Bermuda without all the information it requested around the deal.

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