The Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) is financially challenged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to DRA Managing Director Katherine Forbes-Smith, who added that it will need at least $50 million to complete four major projects over the next two to three years.
The government spent $177 million on its COVID-19 response between March and October, according to the prime minister.
Forbes-Smith told The Nassau Guardian, “We’re really challenged with financial resources. I can’t begin to tell you but I think we know resources are not what they ought to be as a result of government expenditure on managing COVID in the country.
“The pandemic has thrown everybody behind with their schedule.”
She continued, “If you look at the act for the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, we have an opportunity to raise funds along with accepting money from the government to finance projects in reconstruction.
“What happened in the pandemic [is that] budgets were cut severely and it has made it very difficult for us to be very timely on some of the projects that we have not been able to conclude.”
Forbes-Smith noted that 3.5 million cubic yards of debris were collected on Abaco and Grand Bahama in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian — a powerful Category 5 storm that ravaged the two islands in September 2019.
She said that debris is sitting on three separate sites: Treasure Cay, Abaco; Spring City, Abaco; and Grand Bahama.
“What we would’ve liked to do by now is look at how we reduce this debris,” Forbes-Smith said.
“And so, what we are coming up with now is a comprehensive plan for debris reduction for any time you have this kind of hurricane disaster because it’s a plan that will be generic and that we will be able to use if we have another disaster.”
She said there is funding available to develop the plan.
“That is one of our key projects that we are doing as we work in the new year because one of the things you have to do is you want to make sure that you’ve sufficiently reduced the debris, certainly before the next hurricane season starts up,” Forbes-Smith said.
She said the Small Home Repair Program was also delayed by a lack of resources.
Forbes-Smith said nearly 7,000 people accessed the DRA’s system looking for assistance when the program was launched last February.
She said the authority was able to narrow the list to 4,500 people, who were subsequently approved for assistance.
“We are way behind on completing the program,” she said.
The government initially gave the DRA $10 million to fund the program.
Forbes-Smith said nobody knew how many individuals actually needed assistance until DRA assessments started.
She said there was “a delay in September due to us wanting to go through the system and make sure that we could address the numbers and also government resources being impacted by the pandemic”.
“It was thought that we would be able to raise money through donor funding to support some of these projects,” she said, “but the pandemic took care of that.”
Forbes-Smith said the government is coming up with a short-term solution to manage the Marsh Harbour Port’s infrastructure.
She said it also has to work on a long-term solution for the development of the port, which was badly damaged in the hurricane.
Between January and June, the DRA will focus on those three projects — debris management, home repair program and the port — as well as the development of the Abaco Community Center and the completion of 100 domes on Abaco and Grand Bahama, according to Forbes-Smith.
“I think, if government resources weren’t impacted, we would’ve been further along in the development of these projects,” she said.
When asked how much money is needed to carry out the projects, Forbes-Smith replied, “…I think it is probably around $25 million for the Small Home Repair Program for the 4,500 people that now access the program and we have approved.
“If you look at the Marsh Harbour Port, that’s a serious discussion because it certainly wouldn’t be any less than $20 million and it’s likely more than that. In order for us to complete the dome project and make sure that we have the next 100 people set aside, that’s probably $2 million.
“Of course, the community center, which went out for an RFP (request for proposal), the construction cost for that is $1.8 million and it’s probably going to be a bigger budget because we have donors now — that are fully funding — who want to add a couple extra things for the development of the site.”