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  Yves Bourel has been living in St. Barts for more than 10 years. He is an experienced journalist and has been the editor-in-chief for local newspapers. Currently, he is one of the radio announcers at Radio St. Barth for whom he covers political news and is presenting the local news every 2 weeks for St. Barths Online!
  February 28, 2002 - Issue # 14
  A new landscape
   The island's municipal budget for 2002 was approved last Friday, revealing much about where community investments will be made this year. After a flurry of building projects (the new incineration plant, the airport renovation and the new town hall building, or little Versailles, as it's sometimes called) that have recently added new infrastructures to the island or improved on existing ones, the face of St. Barth has changed. By the budgetary looks of it, that change will continue, albeit at a less ambitious pace.
  One of the more notable changes in the works is the "development of the Gambier Space", a project that the municipality has been tackling bit by bit for the past three years. It is the space located past Public, and before the existing public parking lot at the entrance of Gustavia. In 1999, a new quay was built with the intention of providing a suitable docking area for the inter-island ferryboats and the cruise ship shuttles. Then, the space was spruced up enough to become headquarters for the island's boulistes, or bacci ball players. The 2002 budget foresees funding to complete the first, rather spectacular, phase of development which includes 27 new parking places, a taxi stand, a small house-like structure for welcoming harbor passengers, and a fish market that will allow local fishermen a centralized spot for selling their catch of the day. The work is scheduled to start in June, after the transatlantic AG2R sailing race event has taken place and after the harbor has been dredged. A permanent headquarters for the Marine Reserve, to be constructed near the Tourism Office, and warehouse space in Public to stock shipped containers have also been budgeted for this year.
  Moving out of the downtown area into St. Jean, the community has voted to invest in the sports complex located behind the firehouse. In truth, the former municipal dump looks a lot more like an abandoned lot or a set for a Mad Max film than a sports complex, but that too, say island leaders, will change. The sports complex project, which includes tennis courts, a judo room, an omnisports field, and a playground, is expected to cost the community 8.5 million euros. It's a project that has been on the drawing board for years, advancing no more than a step at a time. A stadium and dressing rooms were inaugurated two years ago. This year, finances have been allocated to embellish the grounds.
  What will most likely strike visitors as different is the transformation of the airport area and the reopening of the road that collapsed in November 1999, during Hurricane Lenny. Prior to that time, that road, which can be seen up high and to the left if driving through Public, used to be the major entry into Gustavia. Once the work is finished, the road running along the airport and leading to Public, will have been moved 30 meters to the side so that traffic is no longer in the landing path of incoming planes. The safety issue was first presented in 1990, when the wheel of a small aircraft punctured the hood of a pick-up truck. The airplane landed, minus 1 wheel, at Juliana airport. No one got hurt in the incident, but the call was close enough to send shivers up the collective spine. After a decade of studies, bulldozers hit the site last November, but the road work was interrupted, re-started in December, interrupted, and is still unfinished. Technical disputes have brought work to a halt, and logistical problems have reared their heads, demanding solutions that are not always so easy to find. It will be months before the new road is open to the public. Until then, while idled in their cars at the intersection past the airport, tourists can still have the cheap thrill of feeling the heat of an airplane wheel as it whizzes just meters overhead on its way to touchdown.

  More to come,

  Yves Bourel

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