As the end of the year approaches, the Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) is looking to speed up the cleanup process on Grand Bahama and Abaco, particularly in the areas hardest hit by Category 5 Hurricane Dorian in September.
Following a tour of the island last week, DRA Managing Director Katherine Forbes-Smith noted the enormous scale of cleanup required but said the authority “will work with” those involved to facilitate a faster cleanup process.
“One of the main concerns we heard in various places was that the debris removal process needs to speed up,” Forbes-Smith said in a statement released on Sunday.
“This is the largest clean-up in modern Bahamian history.”
Last month, Disaster Relief and Reconstruction Committee Chairman John Michael Clarke said that the committee originally anticipated cleanup to be done between 120 and 180 days post-Dorian, however, he noted there have been some hindrances along the way.
While the DRA statement focused on efforts being made on Elbow Cay, Abaco, Minister of State in the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis yesterday stressed that the efforts to speed up the process are ongoing for both islands.
“All of the cays, we’re looking at accelerating the program,” Lewis said.
“The recognition was that some cays are further behind than others. But, no, equal attention will be given to all of the cays as well as the mainland.”
He added, “We have some local governments active, some NGOs actively working with the local communities, so there’s no way we’re going to focus on any more one cay than the other.
“And one of the things the prime minister advised, and it’s true – those cays are the economic engines behind the mainland Abaco.”
He added, “Equally in Grand Bahama, we’re trying to make sure that equal attention is given to all of the areas affected by Dorian.”
According to the statement released on Sunday, Elbow Cay community members expressed the need for additional equipment including small trucks, workers, funding, barge services and waste disposal gear. Forbes-Smith commented that the authority “took a list of specific items they require and will work with them to ensure their needs are met”.
This was also echoed by Lewis, who said yesterday that there were at least 12 different organizations conducting cleanup on that island, but confirmed that the authority would bring in additional forces if needed – noting that they would consider Bahamian contractors “first and foremost”.
However, he also advised that the authority is closely monitoring the efforts of contractors performing the cleanup, suggesting that it would dismiss those that are “lagging” in their work.
“If there’s a shortfall in Elbow Cay, [if] you need more equipment, then certainly, we will engage the contractors and find the means by which we can get those relevant equipment in there to expedite the work,” Lewis confirmed.
He added, “We’re also taking a close look at the engaged contractors.
“If we have to bring new contractors in to make up for our shortfalls in areas where persons are not performing, we’ll do that. We’ll be fair.
“If someone receives a contract and they cannot do the work, based on our assessments, we will have to make some adjustments.”
Cleanup efforts in some Abaco shantytowns have caused controversy after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis demanded they be torn down and the land acquired by the government through compulsory acquisition. While giving a status update last month, Lewis said that the presence of some individuals attempting to set up makeshift dwellings in those areas was hindering progress.
However, yesterday he stressed that the reason shantytowns were focused on first was to ensure safety.
Lewis stated, “Initially our priority areas were those shantytowns, and outside of that, everybody has equal attention as much as possible.”
He added, “Again, primarily, focus was given to those shantytowns because of the supposed casualties and the associated health risk. That’s why we highlighted those areas first.
“But moving on from that, we’re trying to give equal attention as much as possible throughout the island of Grand Bahama and Abaco.”
The authority could not provide an estimated completion time for cleanup efforts on either island at this time.