Businessman Daniel Williams and supporters said naming the Fishing Hole Road Bridge in honor of former senator and businessman Caleb Outten, would be a perfect tribute to the 49-year-old activist, who fought for more than two decades to have the causeway elevated.
The residents, who gathered on the bridge last week with cowbells and placards displaying the words “The Caleb Outten Bridge”, hoped to get their message out to the wider community.
Outten was not present and did not wish to comment on the renaming.
His fight to have a bridge built to replace the Fishing Hole Road causeway, the only thoroughfare connecting West Grand Bahama to central Freeport, began back in the early 2000’s when he returned home from Valdosta State University in Georgia.
At the time, Outten, a resident of Hanna Hill, Eight Mile Rock, founded the People United to Make Progress (PUMP) organization.
His objective, through PUMP, was to bring the interests of West Grand Bahama residents to authorities.
“We feel that it would be very fitting and appropriate to name this bridge after no other person than Caleb Outten,” Williams said.
“If we were to reflect as far back as the 1990’s, it was Caleb Outten who advocated strongly for the people. In fact, he founded the People United to Make Progress organization, with the objective of advocating for a bridge over the Fishing Hole Road.”
Fishing Hole Road, which was built across Hawksbill Creek, flooded and, in most cases, was impassable during hurricanes and other harsh weather conditions.
Outten pushed to have a bridge erected over the causeway, so that residents of West Grand Bahama would not be “stuck” in the event of an emergency or if the road flooded.
“So, this bridge didn’t just happen overnight; it came out of a necessity,” Williams said.
“As we go into the country’s 50th [independence] anniversary, we should, as a country, recognize our citizens, especially the young persons who stand up for positive change, seeking to advance the country.”s
Williams noted that history shows that demonstrations led by Outten, supported by PUMP members and residents of West Grand Bahama, were instrumental in authorities finally constructing a bridge.
The original $6.5 million contract for construction of the bridge was signed under the Christie-led government in 2015 and awarded to All Bahamas Construction.
However, work did not begin until two years later.
In 2017, the Minnis administration announced a change in the scope of work for the project, which required additional funding.
By mid-2019, the bridge was completed and a planned official opening was set for September 2019.
Hurricane Dorian’s record-level storm surges in early-September, however, washed away the asphalt and side slopes of the bridge.
It was back to the drawing board for the Free National Movement (FNM) administration.
The asphalt was replaced with eight-inch reinforced concrete rigid pavement, and the slide slopes and shoulders with six-inch-thick concrete.
Following the repairs, officials said the causeway was a “modern-designed, resilient, concrete trestle bridge, spanning 900 feet, with a lifespan of 50 years, sitting 12 feet above the main sea level and able to withstand hurricanes up to Category 5 intensity”.
The final cost for the bridge was quoted at $9 million.
Caleb’s brother, Rev. Simeon Outten, was among supporters appealing for the name change.
“I am here today to support the efforts of those who are here and others in asking the authorities to name this bridge in Caleb Outten’s honor,” Rev. Outten said.
“There is no doubt he’s been the champion for many years, making the appeal for a bridge, and today we have evidence of it being done.”
Rev. Outten recalled how his brother was arrested because of his passion to see justice for Grand Bahamians, particularly in his community.
“So, for me, this is not because he is my brother, but because he is a Bahamian and a proud one,” he said.
“We have a culture where we honor persons after they die or when they are old. Caleb is a young man and is still alive.
“I believe naming the bridge in Caleb’s honor will be a motivation for other young Bahamians to continue to do well, knowing they will be recognized for their work.”
Caleb Outten was arrested in 2001 after climbing to the top of Dravo Rock’s (now Bahama Rock) conveyor belt to protest the company constructing the pulley to carry mined rocks over the main road into West Grand Bahama.
He climbed atop the 20-foot structure where officers apprehended and handcuffed him.
Outten was detained for several hours before being released on bail.
“Caleb’s story should be told,” his brother said. “A young man coming back home from college and seeing the need for so much to be done. Today, the average young person doesn’t know the fight led by Caleb for this bridge that we are enjoying.
“And so, I stand with all making this appeal for the government or whoever the authorities are to name this bridge in Caleb Outten’s honor.”
Latoya Outten, Caleb’s niece, agreed that Caleb is deserving of the recognition.
“As a little girl growing up in Eight Mile Rock, I remember my uncle protesting to have this bridge built. I am glad it is here today, but honor is due to him for being a pioneer, someone who fought for the people of Eight Mile Rock and West Grand Bahama.”