By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
STATE Minister for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson said government understands the urgent need for cleanup in East End and has created a new ministry especially to deal with the massive clean-up, and disaster recovery and reconstruction.
Grand Bahama and Abaco were severely affected by Hurricane Dorian in early September which caused widespread destruction of homes and property on both islands. The death toll stands at 61.
The Tribune visited residents in East End on Wednesday, and a resident there felt that more could have been done in terms of clean-up after a month.
Asked when government would commence cleanup in the East End communities, Minister Thompson said Friday: “We understand and we know that cleanup needs to occur…urgently."
“We are very pleased that we have the new minister who has responsibility for the clean-up, disaster recovery, and disaster reconstruction.”
Iram Lewis, MP for Central Grand Bahama, was appointed State Minister of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction, a new ministry created in the the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
According to Minister Thompson, “ongoing now they are putting together those plans with respect to clean up and we expect that the new minister who is in the process of building his team at NEMA, and is going to as soon as possible get on the ground in East End and going to be able to bring immediate assistance to those persons in EE.”
“We have confidence with putting in place this new ministry and the technical assistance that is needed that we will then begin to see the clean up and reconstruction of that area in EE.”
Additionally, he noted that with the massive cleanup that is required, they expect to see an increase in jobs for Bahamians in both the cleanup and reconstruction phase.
“One of the things we have to see with this storm, particularly in GB and Abaco, as doing is it provides again opportunity, and there is a massive cleanup that is going to be required, he said.
“While we have seen, unfortunately, some businesses have to let go persons on one end, I believe we will also see that there is going to be an uptick in construction, cleanup, and in those areas like EE that is going to really need the cleanup,” he said.
“I believe that with the addition of Mr Lewis, he will be able to organize and not be limited by red tape, and provide assistance for those on the ground, particularly in EE.”
The minister was also asked about certain major developments on Grand Bahama.
The government, he said, is pleased about the signing of the Heads of Agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines, which is proposing to build a $100-m cruise port in East Grand Bahama.
“That again showed the confidence that Carnival had with respect to GB. We have also seen continual dedication of Royal Caribbean who weeks after the storm continue to provide humanitarian assistance to GB,” said Mr Thompson.
He said that government attended meetings with RCL and ITM this week, and talks are progressing regarding the purchase of Grand Lucayan Resort for $65 million, and redevelopment of Freeport Harbour.
“Those talks continue to go very smoothly, and they have again said to us not only do we want to continue with development but actually want to accelerate the talks so that we can move forward to closing,” he said.
"In some other instances, we seen the same amount of investor confidence.... with other investments," he added.
Mr Thompson believes that post Dorian rebuilding would be critical in attracting new investors.
“There are some things we are continuing to work on to make sure we rebuild with resilience, and that is one of the things we have to show to the investment community.”
“Our Tech Hub committee is focused on not seeing hurricanes as an obstacle, but as an opportunity. We have a number of businesses and residents that need to rebuild, and so our opportunity is to assist encourage, and push businesses to rebuild with the latest technology, and assist residents when they think about rebuilding, about rebuilding smart homes.
"EE provides a huge opportunity for us because it is almost like a blank slate where you really could look at building a smart city and renewable energy for power supply,” Mr Thompson said.