By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WORKS Minister Desmond Bannister said it’s “impossible” for electricity to be fully restored on Abaco before the start of the 2020 hurricane season, adding the level of destruction left by Hurricane Dorian has created several challenges for officials.
He said officials are considering bringing in foreign work teams to assist with the power restoration, who would be quarantined on arrival.
Speaking ahead of a Cabinet meeting yesterday morning, the minister told reporters: “I think anybody who has seen the ravages in Abaco will understand that that’s impossible.
“Remember now, all those buildings were destroyed and so first of all, people have to get their insurance pay outs and then they have to get plans and rebuild and then they have to have inspection by the Ministry of Works and inspections by BPL before their homes can even be connected.
“So, what BPL has done is put in a number of solar lighting systems in the Marsh Harbour area but Marsh Harbour is, if you see the utter devastation that we had there, it’s going to take quite a while before you can see total restoration and that’s being realistic and it’s important for us to appreciate what people have been through.”
His comments come amid public concern about the island’s readiness for the upcoming hurricane season, which is less than a month away.
The island was left devastated following Hurricane Dorian in early September after the storm flattened homes, businesses and obliterated infrastructure, destroying a number of power lines in the community.
Since then, Bahamas Power and Light has carried out a number of operations to restore electricity on Abaco.
Officials have previously said that power would be fully restored to the island by the end of March.
However, yesterday, the Carmichael MP could not give a definite timeline for when the storm impacted island will be fully electrified, telling reporters “it’s going to take quite a while before you can see total restoration.”
While noting that power has been restored to several areas on the island, Mr Bannister admitted that the Marsh Harbour community, the island’s central hub, and its surrounding cays have been posing several challenges for BPL workers.
“Much of North Abaco, South Abaco is powered up,” he said.
“The Marsh Harbour areas are challenged as are a few of the cays. Those cays weren’t underground utilities and that by nature is going to take a little while longer.”
In light of these challenges, he added officials also had to be sensitive to the needs of its workers as the catastrophic situation in Abaco has taken a mental toll on some employees.
He said: “We’ve had many numbers of workers from New Providence go to Abaco and after a while, many (of them) have had mental fatigue and so we have had to bring them back to New Providence and send other crews in.
“The CARILEC (Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation) workers who were here had to return to their homes and we’ve been actively trying to bring in another crew from another country and that is going to mean that if we bring them in, we’re going to quarantine them here and get them to do some of the things that they need to quarantine first.”
He continued: “So, BPL has been actively looking at that. That is by no means certain, but that is something that has to happen because when you talk about the qualifications for linesmen and the linesmen has to have at least eight years of experience before you could put them out there.
“So, BPL has to be very, very careful.”
Meanwhile, as it relates to BPL’s hurricane preparedness for New Providence, the minister said the power provider has been actively preparing for the upcoming storm season, adding that officials are “well-ahead” in their plans.
“BPL is, if you go into a number of areas in New Providence, you will see that BPL is actively going about cutting trees,” he said.
“…There are too many yards overgrown around this country and that’s something we have to begin to look at because we can’t expect BPL to continue to maintain our yards. I see huge trees coming out of people’s yards that many are not taking care of.”
He added: “So, BPL is doing the best that they can and if you go all throughout New Providence and you’ll see that they have been cutting trees and that they’ve been securing lines in a number of areas to ensure that they have the appropriate conditions for overhead lines.
“And they’re also finished with their well drilling for the new Wartsila engines, so we expect all of those Wartsila engines to be working properly. Any challenges we have now, we’ve also brought in a spare crew for Wartsila.”
Asked by reporters whether the government had any plans to cut staff in his ministry due to economic uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the minister replied that he was not aware of any such plans.
“Unless I hear that from the prime minister, that is not within my contemplation and people in my ministry are actively working,” he noted.
“. . .We cannot afford not to keep those architects, engineers and those people who make us safe employed and we cannot afford not to. In many of the cases (what) they do is life and death.”