By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Long Island’s farmers and fishermen may have to form co-operatives to rebuild their devastated industries, its MP yesterday urging the Government not to allow these communities to become a social security burden.
Loretta Butler-Turner told Tribune Business she was unaware of the “level of cushion” of insurance protection that her constituency’s farmers and fishermen had in place prior to Hurricane Joaquin, adding that these were “questions that need to be answered”.
Describing compensation offered to farmers after previous storms as inadequate, and often impeded by bureaucracy, Mrs Butler-Turner said it was vital that the Government worked to rapidly restore “self-sustaining” communities to normal.
She warned that otherwise they would become a constant drain on its social security budget, further increasing the Bahamas’ $6.2 billion national debt over the long-term.
The FNM MP, while emphasising that she did not want to criticise the Christie administration, told this newspaper that it did “not appear to be on top” of the disaster relief and restoration efforts in the southern and central Bahamas.
As a result, Long Islanders were relying on themselves and the relief supplies and materials sent by private donors, with many feeling “as if they’re going to have to be on their own to restore their lives”.
Mrs Butler confirmed that the two industries that form the backbone of Long Island’s economy - farming and fishing - had virtually been wiped out by Hurricane Joaquin’s 130 mile per hour winds, rainfall and storm surges.
“I can tell you that all the farms and banana plants are down,” she told Tribune Business. “The farms are flattened.
“We’re a farming and fishing island. I would hazard a guess to say all the fishing boats were destroyed. They were all inland, broken up by this tidal surge.”
Livestock farmers had also lost their herds, Mrs Butler-Turner added, with settled water in several areas of Long Island turning from stagnant to smelling. Residents were now looking for dry areas where they could burn animal carcasses in a bid to prevent the outbreak of disease.
Asked how long it would take Long Island’s economy to return to some semblance of normalcy, the MP replied: “I have no idea.
“I know we were already a depressed economy. I don’t know what level of cushion the farmers and fishermen have. How does one even qualify to get a new fishing boat? I don’t know.
“These are questions that have to be addressed. Maybe we have to look at some kind of co-operative to bring the necessary help. That’s some kind of option.”
Emphasising that Long Islanders would have to devise their own solutions, Mrs Butler-Turner expressed concerns over whether any Government compensation offered to the farmers and fishermen would be adequate.
Recalling the flooding of Long Island’s fields by Hurricane Noel, Mrs Butler-Turner said farmers received around $50 in assistance, and added: “I don’t see that as a real level of assistance for farmers and fishermen.
“And there’s so much bureaucracy, it’s not worth the effort.”
Post-Joaquin, farmers were faced with replanting their fruit trees and crops, and preparing their land, all over again. And their livestock counterparts now have to replace sheep, goat and hog herds.
“From Salt Pond south, it’s almost as if the majority of residents have to start their lives from scratch,” Mrs Butler-Turner told Tribune Business.
“I would like to see the Government truly look at these communities and determine where they’re going to start investing their monies.
“If we don’t help these individuals get on their feet and become self-sufficient again, that falls on the Government’s social safety and becomes a burden on the national debt.”
She added: “To have this burden put on them [the Government] is going to be extraordinary, unless they can facilitate an environment to get these people back on their feet, and have this economic situation working for them.”
Mrs Butler-Turner, who has made countless assessments and relief flights to her constituency, said she was working with Florida disaster recovery specialists, and engineers, in a team effort to see who urgently needed assistance and to develop a recovery plan that involved the community.
“At this stage, the Government, in my opinion, seems not to be on top of the situation, so we’ve got to move forward to help our people,” she told Tribune Business.
“It’s not time for me to criticise the Government, but it’s a huge disappointment that people felt there was no support in that regard. People feel as if they’re going to be on their own to re-establish their lives.
“They look to the protection and assistance of the state as taxpayers, and none of that has happened to this point.”