“Heavily degraded” infrastructure in Nassau harbour is “threatening the Bahamian economy’s viability” by hurting cruise and commercial vessel access, an IDB report has warned.
An economic analysis, accompanying the $35 million Inter-American Development Bank-financed (IDB) project to upgrade the Bahamas’ coastal management and infrastructure, warns that the harbour’s deteriorating breakwaters are affecting the flow of ships to both Prince George Wharf and Arawak Cay.
It revealed that Ministry of Works personnel had described the breakwaters’ repair as “a top project priority”, given the potential impact to the Bahamas’ main cruise passenger gateway and the sole entry point to New Providence for commercial goods.
“From the perspective of stakeholders at the Ministry of Works and Urban Development (MOWUD), rehabilitation of breakwater infrastructure for the Port of Nassau and cruise terminal is a top project priority,” the report by Dr Craig Landry, a natural resource economist at the University of Georgia, revealed.
“The eastern breakwater is currently in a heavily degraded state, and the western breakwater has several breaches, complicating navigability of cruise ships and commercial freighters. By limiting the flow of imports and exports, and inhibiting tourism arrivals, this situation threatens the viability of the Bahamian economy.”
The area surrounding the Port of Nassau is a key focus for the just-approved $35 million project, which aims to enhance Junkanoo Beach and surrounding areas on West Bay Street in a bid to make them more resistance to flooding and hurricane-related hazards.
“Environmental enhancements for New Providence include replenishment of Junkanoo and the surrounding beaches to remediate erosion that has been intensified due to damage in the port breakwaters,” the IDB economic analysis said, “as well as improvements in drainage to reduce flooding and improve water quality.
“Economic benefits from these Sustainable Nassau investments relate to maintenance of tourism flows; enhancements of natural resources that can improve tourism flows; protection of port capabilities (especially relevant for critical commodity imports)’ and improvements in beach and water quality for local residents.”
Dr Landry then further reinforced the critical importance of enhancing the Port of Nassau’s infrastructure, pointing out that sea arrivals accounted for 77.2 per cent of the Bahamas’ 6.11 million visitors in 2015, with some 47.8 per cent coming through Prince George Wharf.
“Stakeholders at the Ministry of Works indicate that maintenance of navigation infrastructure at the port and cruise terminal in Nassau are critical for maintaining tourism and commodity flows,” the IDB economic analysis reiterated.
“The breakwaters, in particular, are of primary importance for viability of navigation within the harbour, but they are currently in very poor shape, with numerous breaches in the eastern section and weaknesses in the western section. Investments in coastal infrastructure can include upgrading and augmenting the current breakwaters to provide for enhanced serviceability and sustainability for the Port of Nassau and cruise terminal.”
This implies that the $35 million IDB-financed project does not currently include funding to address the breakwater problem. It is also unclear whether Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism, was last week including the cost of repairing them in his $100 million-plus estimate for the value of needed upgrades to Prince George Wharf.
Concerns over Nassau harbour’s breakwaters are nothing new, having first surfaced in a Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) report last year. The Ministry of Works personnel, through their comments to the IDB-contracted economist, indicate that nothing has been done and that the problem may be getting worse.
The CDB report found that “financial constraints” at the Government-run Port Department were preventing it from carrying out $20 million worth of repairs to Nassau harbour’s breakwater, something that was threatening to undermine operations at the Nassau Container Port.
The CDB recommended that institutional reforms transfer the legal responsibilities for the breakwater repairs from the Port Department to BISX-listed Arawak Port Development Company (APD).
Its report, entitled ‘Transforming the Caribbean port services industry’, said such reforms would allow the Nassau Container Port’s operator to cease paying port dues to the Port Department.
And, with that burden removed, APD could be in position to reduce the tariffs it charges at the Arawak Cay-based port.
“The breakwater is exhibiting some minor fractures, which results in downtime during north-west winds,” the CDB said.
“Rehabilitation of the breakwater falls under the responsibility of the Port Department. However, the Port Department has not been able to carry out rehabilitation works due to financial constraints.
“In the Bahamas, the port authorities are failing to carry out fully their responsibilities as stipulated in their respective agreements with the port operators.”
The CDB report said that, as a result, the harbour breakwater was not providing “the desired nautical protection”. It placed the repair cost at around $20 million.
Michael Maura, APD’s chief executive, in response to the CDB report said the container port operator wanted repairs to be made “sooner rather than later”. He indicated APD’s willingness to take up the CDB’s suggestion and assume responsibility for the breakwaters itself.
He acknowledged that repairs to the breakwater were becoming more important with each passing year, given the impact of frequent storms, and said: “What we have seen over the last five years is Mother Nature has begun to break down the breakwater.
“We’ve begun to see areas or gaps appear in the breakwater, and when you get those big storms passing north of New Providence and swells, it does send a good surge into Arawak Cay itself, and does move the ships and impact operations.”
Mr Maura added that “a huge break” in the breakwater, around 100 feet in length, existed just west of the lighthouse and resulted in impacts to the eastern end of Arawak Cay when waves crashed against it.
“That’s an area we hope is addressed sooner rather than later,” Mr Maura told Tribune Business, confirming that the issue had been raised with the Government and Port Department.
“The challenge always come down to funding,” he added. “It is something we do discuss. At some point, something has to be done, but no one has presented us with a plan yet as to what’s going to be done to correct the situation.
“The concern we do have is that Mother Nature has now established a chink in the armour, and every single time she sends a storm our way it makes that breach a little wider.
“It’s not something we can sit back and forget about. It gets worse every year. It’s something that has to be addressed.”
Mr Maura estimated that breakwater repairs would likely take two years to complete - six months for engineering works, and a year to finish the construction.