By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
and NATARIO MCKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The hurricane damage inflicted on Morton Salt's plant is "of great concern", a Chamber of Commerce executive said yesterday, because it is Inagua's "main economic driver".
Roderick Simms, chair of the Chamber's Family Island division, expressed hope that the company would be able to retain most, if not all, of its 100-plus workforce while repairs were carried out.
Otherwise he fears "a ripple effect" for Inagua's economy, as workers may then be unable to afford to repair their own homes damaged by Hurricane Irma.
The then-Category Five storm scored a near direct hit on the Bahamas' southern-most island, and Mr Simms said the Chamber will be "reaching out" to Morton Salt to gain an understanding of the storm's impact and how it can assist the company's recovery.
"It is a concern," Mr Simms told Tribune Business of Morton Salt and Inagua's economy. "Morton Salt is a member of the Chamber, and we'll reach out to them and gain an understanding [of their situation].
"They are the largest employer on the island, and will reach out to them once they have done an assessment and see how to move forward from there - getting an understanding of the transition time to better understand the impact on their workers."
Mr Simms added: "They might be able to operate and retain the workers while repairing the facilities, but that may have to be done first.
"It is of great concern because Morton is the biggest single employer on the island, and driver of the economy on the island. It is of concern to the Chamber that any prolonged disruption will have a ripple effect on the economy, in addition to businesses and residents, because if you're not working you may be unable to repair your own place."
Persons who rode-out Irma on Inagua suggested that Morton Salt's facilities had suffered multi-million dollar damages. But the company, while confirming that its plant had been impacted, did not place a dollar figure on the repair costs because it has yet to conduct a proper assessment.
Morton Salt, Inagua's primary employer confirmed that Hurricane Irma had damaged some of its buildings and structures, although a full assessment will have to be undertaken to determine the impact on operations.
The company, a subsidiary of German group, K + S, told Tribune Business in a statement: "We have sustained some damage to buildings and structures on the property as a result of the hurricane.
"A full assessment will be conducted when weather conditions stabilise, so we can safely and properly analyse the damage and its impact on our operations. Until that time, the continued well-being of our Inagua team remains our top priority."
Morton Salt stressed that the safety and security of its employees was of the utmost importance. "That's why we closely monitored Hurricane Irma, and activated our emergency response plans and protocols in preparation for the storm," it said.
"This included closing our Inagua site on Wednesday to enable our employees and their families to prepare for Hurricane Irma while ensuring our facility was secured."
The Bahamas Industrial Manufacturers & Allied Workers Union (BIMAWU), which represents Morton Salt's line staff, told Tribune Business: "It sounds like there was a good bit of damage. The roof of the mechanic shop is completely gone. The conveyor belt that they use to run the salt on to the stock piles has been damaged, so there is a lot of work that needs to be done."
Inagua, together with Ragged Island and Acklins' Salina Point settlement, appear to have been the islands and locations that received the brunt of Irma.
Still, Mr Simms expressed optimism that "for the most part the Family Islands can rebound very quickly considering the damage".
"The country will have to pull together to help those in need considering that we've not had the best economic times in the past few years," he told Tribune Business. "We all have to pitch in to help our brothers and sisters.
"But considering what Hurricane Irma was supposed to be, we fared pretty well. We avoided much of the damage she left in her path, and should be able to rebuild very quickly. Look at Barbuda, Turks & Caicos and the impact Irma left in her wake. We can say we dodged a bullet."
Mr Simms quickly acknowledged that this was of little consolation to those who had suffered loss and damage from Irma, and said the Chamber and its island affiliates would be working closely with the Government agencies in a relief effort.
He also praised the Government for making "the right call" in evacuating Bahamians from those southern islands directly in Irma's path.