Although Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has made mention over the past year of his government’s intention to construct an airport capable of taking international jet aircraft in the vicinity of Wesley and Woodford Hill, no formal plan has been issued. No names of engineering companies or detailed sources of funding have been announced. But social media has been on the move and leaked information, plans, and images are circulating.
Some eight alternative sites around Dominica have been suggested over the last 50 years, but it is generally agreed that the best location on the island is in the area around Woodford Hill and Wesley. The fan-shaped outflow of low ridges emanating from Morne Diablotin provides land that is furthest away from Dominica’s central mountain range. This “shoulder” of Dominica is generally flatter in comparison to the rest of the island. The challenge has been to find the best approach unencumbered by mountains or ridges while at the same time allowing for an alignment that is generally facing into the Trade Winds from the east.
The Dominica Labour Party (DLP) announced plans for an international airport in this area under the leadership of Patrick John in 1975. The new Chronicle newspaper 16 August 1975 announced that some 450 acres had been earmarked for the airport and related projects. But no land was ever paid for. The plan was rebooted in 1979 when 40 square miles of northern Dominica were to be taken over but no drawings were ever issued.
The Dominica Freedom Party unveiled a plan in 1988 in a hefty report compiled by the British engineering firm Alexander Gibb.
The following year this was revised in a supplementary plan that shifted the alignment of the airport closer to Crompton Point.
This was because the then Prime Minister, Eugenia Charles, raised concern about the number of houses that would have to be demolished in Woodford Hill and the extent of banana lands that would have to be acquired.
Then, on 22 June 1998, the United Workers Party launched their own alternative plan devised by consultants Planning and Stanley. This would place the airport inland of Wesley. Extensive lands, including the whole of Londonderry Estate, were acquired. Neither DFP nor UWP plans went to a further stage.
The most recent United Nations Development Plan (UNDP) for Dominica establishes that this general zone of north eastern Dominica is designated for future airport development. Now this has been confirmed by the DLP, Roosevelt Skerrit Plan, for an international airport based on what is now circulating social media.
The plan, as seen on the internet, is superimposed onto a satellite image of this area. Based on this image, the alignment extends from the north eastern bank of the Woodford Hill River, through Eden Estate and Wesley village road and houses at Palpa along Bottom Wesley to the ridge known as Baptiste, ending on the point overlooking the end of Londonderry Beach. The simplified diagram which accompanies this article can be used as a guide.
This alignment of the DLP International Airport appears to have a number of benefits: The first, unlike the old Douglas-Charles site in the Melville Hall Valley, is that it is well above flood waters and sea surge. River flooding has been a serious defect of Melville Hall for years, particularly during Tropical Storm Erika. For this reason, present engineers have avoided crossing the Woodford Hill River which has the largest watershed of all the valleys in this zone. All of the so-called ‘gutters’, including the small Eden River can be diverted parallel to the runway
The other advantage, is the clear approach and take-off over the sea with no encumbrances or obstructions at either end. The extended flight cones emanating for miles to east or west from the ends of the runway over the ocean are completely free. In the case of Melville Hall, difficulty of approach from the west, beneath Morne Diablotin, has always hindered the size of aircraft that could be accommodated there ever since its construction 1958-1961. For the proposed DLP International Airport this is not an issue.
The immediate challenge is negotiating the purchase of houses and land from villagers of Wesley since the airport will be taking up a line of properties along Eden Road and on ridges down to Bottom Wesley. Properties close to Palm Tree and the Woodford Hill Estate yard, including the ruins of North Eastern Timbers will have to go. Prime Minister Skerrit has said that funds are already available. Roads have to be diverted. The trip from Roseau will now be about 15 minutes longer. Eventually a totally new, shorter, highway may have to be devised. What is certain is that the whole enterprise will require national commitment on a major scale.