• Islands ‘didn’t get the support the community needed’
• Perception wealthy home owners ‘pay for everything’
• Developer waiting nine-ten months for promised aid
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Residents on Abaco’s multiple cays “feel neglected” by Hurricane Dorian relief efforts, an Elbow Cay developer charged yesterday, amid perceptions that wealthier residents will “pay for everything”.
Matt Winslow, who is leading the $90m effort to redevelop the former Elbow Cay Club (see other article HERE), told Tribune Business that Hope Town and the rest of the island “didn’t get the support the community needed after Dorian” with the government perceived as focusing its efforts on mainland Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Disclosing that he now needs the government’s help to remove both Dorian debris and “squatters” from the Elbow Cay Club property, so that it can help drive the island’s economic revival post-storm and COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Winslow said his pleas for assistance have thus far produced little to no action.
Having allowed fellow Elbow Cay residents to use the 19-acre property as an alternative location for depositing Dorian-related debris, while two other sites were cleared, he disclosed to this newspaper that this was only done “with the understanding and agreement that the Disaster Reconstruction Authority would barge it off the island”.
“They have yet to fulfill their promise to me,” Mr Winslow added, revealing that two massive debris piles “a couple of storeys high” remain on his property some nine to ten months later. “They have been sitting there for some nine to ten months with the promise that they will assist in helping to remove them so I can start my project,” he told this newspaper.
“At that same time I had conversations with the Disaster Reconstruction Authority and I told them in no uncertain terms that I thought we didn’t get the support - and I can only speak for Elbow Cay - but we didn’t get the support the community needed after Dorian.
“It’s all private dollars that built up the island, restored the docks and primary school, and we would like assistance to remove the pile of unsightly debris. That was nine to ten months ago, and I keep hearing it’ll be next week, next week, next week. They indicate they want to help, but I haven’t seen any movement,” Mr Winslow continued.
“It’s a shame. I’m less concerned for my own project. I think there’s a perception from central government that the barrier islands - Elbow Cay, Man O’ War Cay and Guana Cay - they have a bunch of wealthy homeowners that will take care of them, and they will focus on mainland Abaco and Grand Bahama.
“I’m more worried about the community on Elbow Cay not being able to rebuild two years later. I’m not speaking for my development; I’m more concerned with preserving the history, the culture and the Bahamian community based on 11th and 12th generations on this island, and they feel they’re being neglected. There’s a perception the second homeowners will pay for everything, and we feel neglected.”
Mr Winslow said he was still talking to persons who are “literally rebuilding their homes with their bare hands and have not had income for the past year-and-a-half.... I think it’s a very unsophisticated viewpoint that second homeowners will take care of Dorian on the barrier islands, and there are not enough Bahamians to worry about. There are a lot of struggling Bahamians on these islands,” he added.
“It’s devastating to watch people living on friend’s and family members’ couches and not getting a return call from the DRA and not getting a penny in assistance. My focus is on helping the community members. The last thing we want is for Elbow Cay to become Harbour Island, where multi-generational Bahamians cannot afford to live on their island.”
Mr Winslow and his family, who are the founders and controlling shareholders of Fortune 500 company, Constellation Brands, have played a key role alongside Bahamians and other residents of Elbow Cay in helping to finance its post-Dorian restoration.
Their non-profit, Hope Town United, has raised $8m to-date, of which some $2m has come from Mr Winslow and his family. In the storm’s immediate aftermath they helped to bring medical supplies, heavy machinery and water to Elbow Cay, while also arranging for the air and sea evacuation of several hundred of the island’s injured and most vulnerable residents.
The group then worked with Samaritan’s Purse to clean-up Elbow Cay, and United Way of Palm Beach to restore the public docks, in addition to raising money themselves and from private donors to build a new primary school that was re-opened a month-and-a-half ago.
“We’ve made a long-term commitment to restore the island and preserve the history,” said Mr Winslow, who revealed that the number of “squatters” now occupying the site of the former Elbow Cay Club had risen to around 100-200 over the past 18 months.
Suggesting that most appeared to be non-Bahamian, he declined to speculate on their Immigration status in the Bahamas. “My family has always treated people with compassion and empathy. I have a great deal of compassion and empathy for their plight,” Mr Winslow added.
However, with The Bahamas now in another hurricane season, and his own inspections highlighting the health and other risks posed by “the real squalor” of these persons’ living conditions, he said their eviction from the property was “best all around” and “a very critical situation” - especially since their presence is holding up a project “of benefit to the island and the region”.
Having given written warnings and notices of between 30-45 days to leave, Mr Winslow said the response had been that the “squatters” are not moving. And, having assembled a construction team to demolish the former Elbow Cay Club structures with effect from July 15, he revealed that this effort is now being stymied by the refusal of the Government authorities to help with a safe and orderly evacuation.
Both the police and Immigration are declining to assist on the basis that the recent Supreme Court ruling prohibiting any further shanty town demolitions prevents them from doing so, although Mr Winslow argued the circumstances of his situation are much different because it involves trespassing on private property.