By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
East Grand Bahama's economy has been dealt a devastating blow after Deep Water Cay yesterday said it had no alternative but to cease operations with Dorian clean-up alone to cost $1m.
The renowned bonefishing lodge, whose owners have invested some $44m in upgrades over the past decade, said in a statement that operations would end immediately.
It explained that the extent of Dorian's devastation to homes, lodges and guest facilities had been catastrophic after the category five hurricane stalled over the area for almost 48 hours, and the necessary infrastructure required to begin restoration efforts had also been wiped out.
Since Dorian struck, Deep Water Cay has been providing emergency aid and supplies, raising charitable funds, assessing the damage to its property and liaising with insurance adjusters.
It said yesterday that the clean-up of island homes, lodges, and guest facilities will require barges and heavy equipment, but the island lost its docks to facilitate this work. The cay is also far from safe or habitable, with only the runway clear of debris for landing aid planes.
"Expected clean-up of the cay is estimated at well over $1m," said Paul R Vahldiek Jr, Deep Water Cay Holdings president and a major shareholder. "It will take at least six months and require heavy equipment, operators, and proper disposal of many tons of debris to clean the cay.
"With no idea when power will be restored to East End, and no structures that can be connected on the island - no housing, offices, functioning water or sewage treatment plants in place - we have simply been forced by mother nature to close."
The move will deal a major short-term blow to east Grand Bahama's economy, given that Deep Water Cay represents the area's major employer and also provides numerous spin-off entrepreneurial and job opportunities.
"It employed pretty much everyone down there," one contact, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business. "Nobody wants their place to close but it's trashed; it's horrible. They have to wait, look at what they've got, clean it up and assess".
Other sources said Deep Water Cay had been seeking additional investors prior to Dorian's arrival, and an injection of new capital may now be required more than ever. One added that Deep Water Cay's fate illustrated what the storm had inflicted on virtually all businesses "east of the bridge" in East Grand Bahama.
"All the little restaurants, tourist hideaways, 'Mom and Pop' places are all gone," they said. "It was like going to Abaco or some of the cays. It was very beautiful and homey, and now it's gone."
Tribune Business sources have suggested the property employed around 62 persons, although that could not be confirmed last night. Deep Water Cay said yesterday that all staff and management positions at the property were made redundant last week.
It added that all employees will receive distributions via a GOFUNDME Charitable Corporation account (gofundme.com/f/deep-water-cay-family) set up by the company's US-based team. The combined GOFUNDME account and other donations via cheques deposited into the Florida Charitable Corporation account should hold close to $500,000 by next week's end, said Mr Vahldiek.
"We hope that the GOFUNDME distributions will at least help get folks started down the road to recovery," said Mr Vahldiek. "We are also working with a placement company to try and help some of our employees with work in other locations for this upcoming season.
"Additionally, we have been in contact with Matt Wideman at the Love and Light Foundation out of Orlando to provide temporary shelter."
Deep Water Cay is also engaging with Community Organised Relief Effort (CORE) - actor Sean Penn's charitable organisation - to provide sustainable long-term on-the-ground support and building in the communities of Sweetings Cay, McLean's Town and Pelican Point.
While Deep Water Cay may have ceased operations for now, its owners yesterday indicated their determination to eventually re-open. Their statement said Mr Vahldiek will continue to work daily on matters relative to the restoration of Deep Water Cay and jobs for these communities.