The Clarendon South West economy can take off with Vernamfield aerotropolis

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The Clarendon South West economy can take off with Vernamfield aerotropolis

Kent Gammon

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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Vernamfield is a former World War II United States Army Air Forces airfield located in Clarendon South West. The airfield was renamed Vernam Air Force Base by the United States Air Force in 1948, but was closed in 1949. The Vernamfield landing strip has been unutilised as an aircraft landing strip and aircraft facility for over half a century.

This landing strip is ideally located in the dead centre of the island as a logistic hub to transport goods from local and overseas suppliers. The Americans chose and developed this airbase due to its perfect geographical coordinates to land aircraft and we should also recognise this natural geographic advantage for the same purposes.

The present Minister of Labour and Social Security Lester Michael Henry has been championing the full utilisation of Vernamfield as an aerotropolis and came close to realising this dream in 2011 when Singapore Port signalled very strong intentions to do an aircraft training school at Vernamfield — until the December 29, 2011 General Election came along and ushered in a new People's National Party (PNP) Administration that sounded the death knell for that plan.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) returned to power on February 25, 2016 and the Vernamfield aerotropolis development is now back on track. But the development of that airfield could have started almost two decades ago.

THE OPPORTUNITY COST OF SOCIALISM

From as far back as 2005, Lufthansa Maintenance expressed a serious interest in setting up an maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) at Vernamfield. But the business opportunity was scuttled when the Administration of the day riled up their squatter supporters all over the surrounding environs to demand 'market price' for their so-called lots which then spooked the investors.

It is the same 'bogey man' argument the same party used in 2005 that they are using now. During a January 15, 2020 meeting of the constituency of Clarendon South West, residents of communities living around Vernamfield Aerodrome voiced fears that the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) would forcibly expropriate their land for a multi-modal project, Vernamfield Aerotropolis Development, under the auspices of the Compulsory Land Acquisition Act.

Unanimously, residents had refused offers made for their land, saying that the GOJ had made “ridiculously low property offers”, far below the market value, including for farms that people had developed for decades.

They said that if the low offers were not immediately withdrawn the plans would not 'take off'.

The Member of Parliament representing Clarendon South West, Noel Arscott, said impending land acquisition had “caused persons to lawyer-up”, especially people owning larger dairy lots.

In December 2019 the GOJ had designated the Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ) as the lead agency responsible for the aerotropolis, granting approval for negotiations with private landowners for acquisition of land parcels required for the project.

As caretaker candidate for the constituency, I hear the residents in the area surrounding the Vernamfield airfield tell me that the GOJ is going to 'throw them off' the land they have squatted on aided and abetted by the PNP.

I have told them the GOJ will relocate them to other areas relatively close to where they are now with proper housing infrastructure and indeed the GOJ has paid over $800 million to people who have claimed land interests so as to clear the way for the Vernamfield development as a modern-day aerotropolis.

Indeed there have been several public meetings to discuss the plans with the community and the people have been warming up to the development as long as it includes them in jobs and relocation plans.

Socialism as a political philosophy poisons the minds of the weak by telling them all land is free. All land is not free — but the PNP, whose main voting base is squatters —has built up a mini garrison of voters in Vernamfield and the surrounding communities. This is why the arrogant councillor for the Milk River Division can boast that he will remain the councillor for Milk River until he says when.

JOBS AND GROWTH FOR THE PEOPLE OF CLARENDON SOUTH WEST

For more than 31 years the constituency of Clarendon South West has been under the total dominance by the PNP. The constituency has seen the closure of factories and thousands of acres of arable lands just laying waste.

If we had a massive economic boost such as the Vernamfield aerotropolis, the knock-on effect in creating jobs and livelihoods would be massive. There would be jobs needed for aircraft cleaning, repairs and food for the workers in this economic activity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has grounded hundreds of aircraft throughout the world and the Vernamfield offers an excellent economic opportunity to land and store planes there. We should not let this economic opportunity pass us by. We need to grab this economic opportunity and nurture it. The people of Clarendon South West have been starved long enough of economic opportunities for them to be deprived yet again of another one by socialist leadership.

And of course, when people are working they can be part of the tax base so that infrastructure works can be ramped up throughout the constituency. The constituency lacks proper school facilities, health care buildings and equipment and roads in a deplorable state in Sedgepond, Springfield, Racecourse, Gibraltar, Gimme-Me-Bit, Rhymesbury and Farquhars Beach, just to name a few. All the features of a neglected constituency taken for granted by the PNP are blatantly evident throughout he constituency of Clarendon South West.

A Vernamfield aerotropolis is the future of a grand economic off ramp from crime and depression. The GOJ and my leadership will work tirelessly to make the Vernamfield aerotropolis a reality so we can get the people working again.

It is high time the people of Clarendon South West break the shackles of poverty and embrace prosperity.

Kent P Gammon is the caretaker Member of Parliament for Clarendon South West. Contact numbers are 383-8635 (cellular); 927-6903; kentgammon@gmail.com.


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