By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Abaco’s Chamber of Commerce president is sounding the alarm over “all this unregulated construction going on” as the Hurricane Dorian rebuilding effort starts to ramp up on the island.
Ken Hutton told Tribune Business that he was “very concerned” about the numerous “guys with a hammer that are going around and are not qualified to do the work”, voicing fears this will “create an even bigger problem” when the 2020 hurricane season rolls around.
“My concern is that there are not as many licensed, qualified contractors doing the work,” he said. “We have a lot of unlicensed contractors or guys with a hammer going around and they’re not qualified to do this work.
“I’m very concerned about that. It’s a double-edged sword. We want people back in their homes as quickly as possible, but we want these homes rebuilt responsibly so that they will not be more dangerous than what was left.
“That’s a big concern of mine. There’s all this unregulated construction going on right now. We want people in their homes, but at the same time it has to be done properly otherwise we are creating even bigger problems next hurricane season.”
Mr Hutton’s concerns echo those expressed previously by former Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) presidents Leonard Sands and Stephen Wrinkle, who voiced fears that there was no way to properly police Dorian reconstruction given that the industry’s self-regulatory licensing system - showing which contractors are capable of a particular standard of work - is not in place yet.
As a result, they warned that consumers have no redress for shoddy workmanship with the possibility that a good portion of the post-Dorian rebuild may not be compliant with the Bahamas Building Code - storing up further trouble for when a hurricane strikes again.
Mr Hutton, meanwhile, suggested that Abaco’s revival had now reached “the end of the beginning” with efforts turning to “the real hard work” of rebuilding or constructing totally new homes, businesses and public buildings.
With insurance payouts now flowing, the Abaco Chamber chief told Tribune Business he had seen a surge in business at Premier Importers’ operation on the island - where he works - as the demand for construction materials increases.
Noting that complaints over the wait to receive insurance settlements had reduced compared to just two weeks ago, Mr Hutton said: “I do understand a lot more people are receiving insurance claims. I’m hearing a lot of reports that the payouts on the claims are not as satisfactory as the claimants might want them to be, but when are they ever?
“It does seem to be happening much faster now. I’m seeing it in my business. I’m seeing a lot more people coming back to start the rebuilding, and that’s encouraging. It’s crazy. We are absolutely incredibly busy. The problem we’re having is keeping stuff in stock right now. It’s just flying out the door.
“It’s upsetting for me when we run out of things,” he added. “We’re getting things in as fast as we can, several shipments a week. It’s upsetting for me when someone comes in wanting to get their house fixed and they were counting on us, and there’s only so much we can do. I feel bad for them.
“They come in and there’s that look on their face of incredible disappointment, as they were all ready to go and counting on me.”
Still, Mr Hutton said the progress of recovery efforts has picked up, with the pace of debris removal in particular moving “at a much faster pace” than initially. “The lay down grounds for the separation of debris have been put in place,” he added.
“My only concern with that is there’s not enough space. What I understand from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is there are three lay down grounds and we need eight. I think that is going to be a challenge or an issue for the Disaster Reconstruction Authority immediately in the New Year. I have a lot of confidence that it will get done in pretty short order.”
Mr Hutton continued: “I think we’re at the end of the beginning, so now we’re starting the real hard work of recovery and reconstruction. There does appear to be a new sense of optimism here, and hopefully the Christmas break will do a lot for people in destressing. There’s a lot of burn-out happening, and it would be nice for people to have a break to get a bit of normalcy back in their lives.”