The government’s handling of the Dorian aftermath has faced stinging criticisms from many of us in media, but more importantly from the Dorian survivors on the ground who do not see things moving quickly enough.
However, North Abaco MP Darren Henfield, who spoke with National Review on Monday, one day before the first anniversary of Hurricane Dorian’s landfall on Abaco, described rebuilding and restoration efforts as “progressive”.
“It’s a natural inclination of human beings to feel a sense of disconcert if they are not where they are used to being and many of us are yet not where we are familiar in living,” said Henfield, who rode out the storm on Abaco.
“Many of us still have quite a bit of ways to go to bring our lives back together. We approach this anniversary I think with mixed emotions. Some people are appreciative of the strides we have made and others are not and that’s the reality of what we face.”
Henfield said with the help of NGOs, the government through its Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) has been able to repair the roofs on many homes.
“We also have restored power through BPL (Bahamas Power and Light),” he added. “I would estimate between 80 and 85 percent [of customers have been restored], which I think is tremendous when you look at the amount of infrastructure damage that we suffered.
“Water, although still a long ways to go, it’s somewhat consistent in certain areas. If you could appreciate, the Central Abaco area inclusive of the cays, Elbow Cay, Man-O-War Cay and all the way down to Treasure Cay, were gutted, completely destroyed by Dorian. We got gusts in excess of 250 miles per hour which wreaked havoc in our infrastructure. The sheer debris field [was astounding].”
John-Michael Clarke, chairman of the DRA, which was established late last year, said the authority has identified 14 critical projects to complete within the next 12 to 15 months.
Clarke pointed to the small homes repair program on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
“I think the authority has worked hard since December 1 of last year getting the small homes repair program up, with over 4,000 people registered; over 3,000 people have been approved; over 1,000 people have been helped,” he told National Review yesterday.
“The DRA has spent over $10 million in that program alone and we are hoping that resources allow us to continue to help the people.”
Another major project is the completion of all the debris collection, which is set to end this month, and Clarke also pointed to the management of debris management sites.
There are four — two on Abaco and two on Grand Bahama, he noted.
Additionally, the DRA wants to complete a temporary dome project.
“There are 32 domes in Spring City, but we have actually more domes outside Spring City than we have actually in Spring City,” Clarke noted.
In total, 170 temporary domes will be installed on Abaco. According to Clarke, 60 have already been installed.
All of them have been assigned, he said, adding that there will be 90 in Dundas Town and Murphy Town and 40 on Grand Bahama; those have not yet been installed, but “all of the materials for installation are in Freeport”.
“We got shot down with COVID,” Clarke said. “That’s one of our biggest challenges.”
Further reporting on the DRA’s plans and accomplishments, he said there will be 100 semi permanent modular homes for public servants in Spring City.
The DRA is also establishing modular homes for Sweeting’s Cay and east Grand Bahama, he said.
Marine cleanup of the Abaco Cays, Marsh Harbour and east Grand Bahama is also a priority, according to the DRA chairman.
“We want to get to the marine cleanup because that is very important for people on the cays and getting them back so that the dock facilities and all of that stuff could be rebuilt,” he said.
“We have to clean up the environment. The housing program by itself is a significant undertaking. Providing the semi permanent modular homes, the reason we’re doing that is that we had to get RVs to restore government functions. Those RVs aren’t hurricane rated. We want a more robust structure that will be for public servants — teachers, police, defense force.”
Other projects are temporary airport facilities at Treasure Cay; the construction of a new community shelter in Central Abaco and one in Freeport; the construction of two comprehensive schools, one in east Grand Bahama and one in Treasure Cay; reconstruction of port facilities in Marsh Harbour; and construction of a new police fire station at Marsh Harbour.
The DRA chairman also pointed to the development of two 60 acre sites, one in Spring City and one in Wilson City.
“We sent out an RFP and we are in the process of getting a master planning exercise going for those two 60-acre tracts, mixed-use development, so they will have a combination of single-family lots, multi-family lot, some commercial spaces,” Clarke told National Review.
He said DRA is still in discussion with Baker’s Bay developments’s Discovery Land Foundation.
“They’re supposed to provide 46 homes for us,” he said.
“We’ve identified an area in Central Pines for those homes. Those discussions are ongoing and we had hoped to have been able to start in August. We are getting the paperwork finalized through the Office of the Attorney General and we are hoping that by October/November we will be able to start.”
Expenditure on Dorian recovery and restoration projects has contributed largely to a budget deficit of nearly $800 million, the Ministry of Finance reported on Sunday.
The ministry reported that recurrent and capital expenditures grew by a combined $231.7 million (8.8 percent) to $2,877.2 million ($2.87 billion) in fiscal year 2019/2020, largely due to outlays for Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19 initiatives.
When he spoke with us on Monday, Henfield pointed to the added challenges in restoring Abaco, given the pandemic.
“I try to explain this people that we have been struck — and it sounds as if you’re making an excuse, but for me it’s not — we were struck with the worst weather system in the modern history of Atlantic storms,” he said.
“That happened in September. The government established the DRA in December and then in March along comes COVID-19 which further exacerbates an already troubling period in which we find ourselves.”
Henfield added, “I think we are a resilient people. I know that we are going to come through this and reclaim all that Dorian and COVID attempted to steal from us.”