By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Abaco’s Chamber of Commerce president yesterday called for post-Dorian debris removal to be “ramped up significantly” given the huge obstacle it presents to the island’s reconstruction.
Ken Hutton, pictured, told Tribune Business that the authorities needed to speed the process up by “a factor of four to five”, and permit foreign contractors with the necessary equipment to assist given that the scale of the devastation requires “mammoth resources that this country doesn’t possess”.
Warning that it was impossible for businesses and homeowners to rebuild “in the middle of debris field”, given the obvious dangers this posed, Mr Hutton said a non-governmental organisation’s (NGO) recent revelation that it was taking 180 loads to the Abaco landfill per day “needs to be closer to 1,000” if reconstruction is to soon begin in earnest.
He added that the debris and waste created by the Category Five storm, which a Cabinet minister previously estimated to weigh 1.5bn pounds, also needed to be properly separated rather than simply dumped en masse into the island’s landfill due to the heightened risk this posed for fires as well as long-term environmental and health hazards.
“Clean-up is starting, debris removal is continuing, but it needs to be ramped up significantly,” Mr Hutton told Tribune Business. “All the local companies are at full capacity but in order to get this done as quickly as possible we need additional capacity here, and if that means bringing in foreign contractors that’s what we need to do.
“We need to increase what is going on by a factor of four to five. It’s a little difficult, and be hazardous and dangerous, to rebuild something in the middle of a debris field. It needs to quicken a lot at the current pace. It’s a mammoth task, and it needs mammoth resources that this country doesn’t possess.
“A non-governmental organisation, I can’t remember which one, said it was taking 180 loads a day to the landfill. That needs to be closer to 1,000.”
Mr Hutton added that the 1.5bn pounds of storm-related waste, as estimated by the minister of the environment and housing, Romauld Ferreira, needed to be properly sorted so that any hazardous materials or those that can be recycled were removed from the debris stream.
“That debris cannot just be dumped in the dump,” the Chamber chief told Tribune Business. “It has to be sorted, picked apart and recycled. We can’t just put it in the landfill as that creates irreversible environmental hazards for the future.
“It doesn’t have the capacity, and when you have that stuff mixed together and not sorted the first thing that happens is the landfill catches fire. You have toxins mixed in there and the ground becomes poisoned. It’s an environmental hazard waiting to happen.”
Mr Hutton, though, said yesterday’s docking of Tropical Shipping’s first commercial sailing to Abaco since Dorian had provided the island with a welcome boost. While the Marsh Harbour port was “still not up to” global security standards, he added that “at least it’s a secured operating zone to be able to move towards that.
“Now the sea port is open, our next project will be getting the airport up and running,” the Chamber president said. “I’m aware that the main issue at the airport is the external and perimeter fencing that needs to be repaired and put back in place, and I understand there may be an issue with the fire fighting equipment that may have been damaged during the storm.”
While welcoming Dr Hubert Minnis’ pledge yesterday to make Aback and Grand Bahama ‘VAT free zones’ until June 2020 in a bid to aid Dorian recovery, Mr Hutton cautioned that “the extent to which it will be helpful will be seen in the details”.
He added: “I think it’s great. It’ll definitely be helpful. I don’t know the details. I don’t know if it will be VAT free on everything from food to building materials to automobiles. Every bit of relief, though, is welcome.”
The Government yesterday said individuals and businesses on the two Dorian-impacted islands will be exempt from the payment of VAT on a range of items, including unprepared food of all types, water, fruit and vegetable juice, clothes, shoes, hats, belts, stockings, gloves, scarves, cleaning supplies, beds and bedding material.
Other products designated as VAT-free are hardware supplies, building materials, landscaping supplies, pest control supplies, electrical fixtures and materials, electrical generators, farming equipment and supplies, fishing equipment and supplies, manufacturing equipment, cots, protective and safety gear, household furniture, furnishings and appliances, solar panels, mosquito netting, plumbing fixtures and materials, office supplies and equipment, tents, air-conditioning units and other equipment.
Mr Hutton, meanwhile, described the planned openings of Maxwell’s Supermarket and Commonwealth Bank in early and mid-November, respectively, as “a game changer” given that this would also restore the island’s main food store and financial/banking services - two essentials if reconstruction is to begin.
“It’s a game changer, and we will start to see things getting back to some sense of normalcy,” he said. “The key thing is getting people back into their homes, and getting schools and churches fixed to get a real sense of community back here. Schools are critical.
“There has been no update on the water supply. It’s off in some places and on in some places. We know they’re conducting testing in Marsh Harbour and identifying leaks. I know they’re starting to run electricity poles into Marsh Harbour, but from what I understand that’s focused on the Government complex, clinic, airport and port. That’s the priority right now.”