Thursday, Nov 14, 2019
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Financial strain halts Abaco Big Bird free ice operation

After giving away about $100,000 in ice for over a month to residents of Abaco impacted by the passage of Hurricane Dorian, the owners of Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm (Bahamas) Limited yesterday said the financial cost is unsustainable and they’ve had to start charging for their product.

Though they said government support could change that.

The farm estimates it gave away 200,000 pounds of ice to residents, relief workers, and government organizations on the island.

The farm announced Friday that it would begin charging for the ice.

The Marsh Harbour farm’s policy has been to provide free ice and fresh water for one to two weeks in the aftermath of a major storm since Hurricane Floyd made landfall in 1999.

However, Dorian’s historic destruction has left much of the island without power since the beginning of September, forcing the farm to extend its humanitarian effort far beyond that time.

Starting yesterday afternoon, the poultry farm began selling a shovel full of ice, which is eight to 10 pounds, for $3 and a basket full of ice, which is 50 pounds, for $15.

Cindy Pinder, a worker at the family-owned farm, said, “We’re seven weeks out now. We can’t afford to do this. We’re running our generator every day. [There is] wear and tear on the ice machine. We’re doing way more work than we normally do. The problem is there’s no power on Abaco. We don’t have any power. So, people are suffering in this heat. They can’t keep their food cold. They have nothing cold to drink.”

She added that the farm feels horrible that it cannot continue to distribute the ice free of charge, but it cannot afford to do so on its own.

“The retail value on the ice we’ve given away would be between $75,000 to $100,000,” said Operations Manager Lance Pinder.

“The machines aren’t on separate meters or anything, but they are the most power hungry things that we have here on the farm and they require RO (reverse osmosis) water to operate. Repairs on them are very expensive. They’re like $30,000 machines.”

He said that the farm spent almost $5,000 for diesel to power its machines, and reiterated that the farm cannot afford to continue its humanitarian effort.

“People drive here from Fox Town, which is more than an hour drive, to come and get a cooler of ice. They drive from Sandy Point, which is 80 miles roundtrip, to get a cooler of ice,” said Cindy Pinder.

She added that she wrote a letter to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) last week to express the farm’s need for financial assistance, but has yet to get a response on the matter.

When contacted for comment, NEMA Director Captain Stephen Russell told The Nassau Guardian that he had no knowledge of the letter.

Redevelopment Coordinator for Abaco Jack Thompson also said he was not aware of the issue, but he said he is prepared to work with the farm to come to a solution.

Lance Pinder said since the storm, the farm threw away 60,000 pounds of its poultry products and lost about 50,000 livestock.

He added that all of the farm’s chicken houses were destroyed, leaving the business inoperable.

He said that the family is reluctant to restart the poultry part of the farm in the wake of the storm’s devastation and difficulties they have already experienced conducting business in the country.

He said the farm will, however, revive its avocado and lime orchid, but that is not expected to be in full operation for two years.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that the government has designated Abaco and Grand Bahama as “special economic recovery zones” for three years.

Minnis added that these special economic recovery zones will be granted “duty-free purchase of all materials, fixtures, furniture, vehicles, equipment for all business needs and for all business and residential construction/rehabilitation efforts”.

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