By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Abaco Chamber of Commerce's president yesterday warned that the 60 percent non-insurance rate will be a "huge factor" limiting the pace and extent of the island's recovery.
Ken Hutton told Tribune Business that the relatively low level of insurance penetration, with three out of every five businesses and homeowners lacking the necessary coverage, was "a huge concern" for efforts to revive Abaco in Hurricane Dorian's wake.
With multiple businesses and entrepreneurs "wiped out", Mr Hutton pointed out that those who had mortgaged their home to finance ventures would be unable to rely on insurance monies stemming from residential claims as these would go to the bank or other lenders.
As a result they would have little to no collateral to back loans for re-establishing their businesses. Mr Hutton said the Abaco Chamber and its partners were now trying to "fill the gap" through their Project Resurrect initiative that will seek to provide micro loan facilities and other financing initiatives to get the private sector back on track.
He added that Project Resurrect's creation was still going through the necessary legal formalities, as he called for the removal of major hurricane debris to be "executed as soon as possible". The government has moved to do exactly that with the signing of four Abaco clean-up contracts last week, for which work began yesterday, but Mr Hutton conceded it will be "a long, long road".
The Abaco Chamber chief said the restoration of utilities and banking services, and opening up of both the shipping port and airport, were vital in providing a foundation for the wider recovery and rebuilding effort.
Estimating that the island is currently just "15 percent" of the way to full recovery, Mr Hutton said key industries such as boating and vacation rentals had been "decimated" by Dorian's winds and storm surge and now no longer existed.
"The statistic is that 60 percent of the people here did not have insurance. That's horrible," he told Tribune Business. "It's a huge concern. Those people that had a business, and they've mortgaged their home to finance their business, if that home was destroyed the bank will take that [insurance claim].
"It's horrible. You have people wanting to get into business but they have nothing; no collateral. I feel for everybody here. There's so many people just completely wiped out. The insurance coverage is going to be a huge factor."
Mr Hutton continued: "Government definitely has its limitations to what it can and should do. That's why the private sector, through Resurrect, we're putting in programmes to fill that gap providing micro loans and things like that to get people back into business.
"It's needed now, and will be badly needed going into the future. We'll do what we can, but this is a generational tragedy, it really is."
Project Resurrect, which has the joint support of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Marsh Harbour/Spring City district council, is an effort focused on rebuilding the business community in Marsh Harbour and the wider island.
Disclosing that "incredible feedback" had already been received, Mr Hutton previously said Project Resurrect is seeking a combination of charitable donations and private sector funding to help Abaco businesses restart following the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Dorian.
The Abaco Chamber chief, who pledged to rebuild "a New Abaco" in a letter detailing the initiative's goals, said the organisation and its supporters aimed to "recreate a world-class destination" via a strategic approach that will first focus on rebuilding the physical and services infrastructure needed for every-day survival.
Mr Hutton yesterday said Project Resurrect was still "working through regulatory issues in terms of bank accounts, the foundation and all that stuff. It is moving forward. We've just got to jump through all these loops. There's a lot of traction for it, and a lot of people on this island are waiting for it to complete".
Back on Abaco for the week, Mr Hutton said he had seen "less than a handful" of businesses return so far to start the rebuilding process. He added that most persons were homeowners who had returned to sort through the remains of their properties.
Noting that the security situation had significantly improved, the Abaco Chamber president added: "The debris removal is the key thing right now more than anything. The major hurricane debris removal has to be executed as soon as possible.
"We're about 15 percent through [with recovery], and have got 85 percent to go easily. We can't exist here if we can't use water, don't have power and there's no communications. The place doesn't move. We've got to get those things in place.
"In terms of electricity I'm on the highway and there's so much to be done. Poles are down on both sides of the road, snapped, and wires. It's a gargantuan task. It really is. At least from the southern end of the island they've got power as far north as Casuarina, which is probably 15 miles south of Marsh Harbour, but the job gets exponentially more difficult the closer you get to Marsh Harbour."
Mr Hutton said he had yet to see any sign of the commercial banks and financial services returning to Abaco, adding that this sector was critical to "greasing the skids of commerce".
He described the boating industry, one of Abaco's key economic drivers, as "decimated. Gone. All the marinas are gone. The rental catamarans are all gone. There's nothing left. The sector is gone. It really is".