By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
GRAND Bahama Chamber of Commerce boss Greg Laroda is calling for major stakeholders here to come together to develop a “generational” plan for the island’s recovery, and its battered economy following Dorian.
He stressed that the island is facing many challenges and uncertainties with no answers from anyone in authority to questions concerning Grand Bahama’s recovery. Mr Laroda believes that the government, Grand Bahama Port Authority, and the chamber must work together to come up with the best possible plan that will put the island on the right path to recovery.
“What we need is a plan for the recovery of Grand Bahama,” he told The Tribune. “There are lots of different stakeholders doing lots of different things to assist with the recovery effort, but what I don’t see is those stakeholders like the government, GB Port Authority, and the chamber getting together and talking to each other about what is best for the island of GB and coming up with a strategic plan everyone can buy into – a plan that needs to be generational, not just a plan for the next three years.”
He stressed the need for a plan that can get the island and its economy back on track.
“It must be a plan that…where no matter who is the government after the next general election and after that, they buy into the plan and are committed to seeing the plan work, so we can get this island and the economy to where we would like to see it, not just pre-Dorian, but where we can have a robust economy on Grand Bahama, and it will take that kind of foresight.”
Mr Laroda indicated that one of the major concerns is the island’s airport.
“Everyone on the island wants to know exactly what is happening with the airport, when it is going to open to the public from a domestic and international standpoint. We know that is being worked on, but again communication is not always forthcoming,” he said.
He believes that once the airport is open for travel, it will help speed up recovery efforts in terms of getting people to and from Grand Bahama to assist, and tourists coming in and providing a customer base for persons in the tourist industry.
“So, it (the airport) is really critical to our recovery,” Mr Laroda added. “We feel like it is the good time for the government of the Bahamas to take control of that airport and think it would be in the best interest of Grand Bahama and the wider Bahamas. (They need to) do whatever is necessary to get ownership of that airport so we can have a direct say in the future of the economy of Grand Bahama.”
Another critical issue, Mr Laroda said that needs to be addressed is the restoration of potable water on the island.
Since the storm, water quality was significantly reduced when storm surge affected the island’s well fields, affecting the fresh water supply.
According to GB Utility, well fields one and three were flooded with four feet of sea water, while well field six was flooded with 21 feet of sea water for 36 hours during and after the storm. The flooding destroyed the company’s entire vertical infrastructure including utility poles, wires, electrical components, control and motoring systems.
Mr Laroda said that potable water is vital to restaurants and the food service industry.
When asked about the impact on foreign direct investments to Grand Bahama, the chamber president agreed that challenges regarding the basic infrastructure has affected investments to the island.
“I think it has hindered all investments in Grand Bahama because basic infrastructure has been challenged and compromised -- just getting to the island is a challenge, and someone intending to invest in Grand Bahama would ask questions that we do not have answers to at present, and there is a lot of uncertainty,” he explained.
He said the natural disaster also forced many people to decide to leave Grand Bahama and relocate to Nassau, the US or Canada.
“What we have to deal with in terms of local businesses as well is that residents decided to leave the island after Dorian; they left seeking job opportunity,” he said. “We are not aware yet how many businesses on the island will survive the impact of Dorian in terms of just getting back up and running. Once they do, the lack of the critical mass on the island has only been magnified now and so there is a lot of uncertainty.”
A recent post-hurricane report on social trends in Grand Bahama found that nearly 50 percent of people on the island are unemployed after the storm. The report, prepared by staff at the Department of Social Services, found that 60 percent of people in West End, 47 percent of people in Freeport and 48 people in East End were unemployed as of November 5. The data came from a door-to-door assessment by social services workers.