• NGOs and local Gov’t team on Mudd proposal
• Say plan will also aid shipping port’s expansion
• Be self-financing, sustaining and create 110 jobs
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Abaco’s local government and non-profit groups are offering to partner in creating a near-$4m memorial to Hurricane Dorian victims that will also give Marsh Harbour’s shipping port room for much-needed expansion.
Roscoe Thompson, head of the Marsh Harbour/Spring City Township, told Tribune Business that body had teamed with the One Abaco Foundation and Guy Harvey Foundation to propose “a vibrant community space” that could create more than 100 jobs where the former 23-acre Mudd community once stood.
Disclosing that the proposal was submitted to the former Minnis administration, and subsequently to Cabinet ministers in the new government as well as the current Port Department board, he explained that the partners were proposing to set aside six acres for a new administration and Customs warehouse building for Marsh Harbour’s commercial shipping port.
Mr Thompson, explaining that this would facilitate greater container storage space and potential expansion whenever the port is rebuilt, told this newspaper that the remainder of the former Mudd site would be dedicated to remembering the hundreds who lost their lives in Dorian as well as providing facilities and a gathering space for Abaconians.
Besides a memorial garden, the partners have also proposed constructing a basketball court and small amphitheatre at the site, the latter of which would be used to host homecomings, regattas, gospel concerts and other community-based events. Walking paths, a children’s playground and vendor stalls, where foods, Bahamian dishes and art can be sold, are also incorporated into the partners’ plans.
Revealing that the proposal would 100 percent financed, built and maintained by the private sector and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Mr Thompson said that to-date it had been acknowledged by just one Port Department executive despite being e-mailed to them after the meeting held by the agency in Marsh Harbour just two to three weeks ago to discuss plans to rebuild Abaco’s commercial shipping port.
Crediting Ken Hutton, former Abaco Chamber of Commerce president, for being the primary driving force with whom he and the township have partnered, he told Tribune Business: “There’s so much that could be done. We don’t want to turn it into a business district. Thousands of people died there, even though the Government won’t admit it. I think it would honour a lot of people.
“The majority of it should be used as a memorial garden with green space. The Government would control the first four to seven acres, and the back would be opened up as a garden. We’re trying to get something where the Government will partner with the NGOs, and give the guidelines and restrictions as to what needs to be done on the port side with regard to security, fencing and the administration building.
“But all construction and funding would go through the NGOs, not the Government. The Government should not be the one responsible. Moving the port administration building there would allow [free up] the whole right side of the port, enable the parking lot to be fenced in, and they could expand the port. It would make the port larger on the water side,” Mr Thompson continued.
“It would allow more area for containers on the waterfront side. You would be able to come out to the road and fence it off. Where the port building used to be, it can now be used for the storage of more containers. They really have nowhere to expand the port currently, but could if the right side, where the port building used to be, becomes more space for Tropical Shipping or whoever brings in freight. It makes sense.”
Mr Hutton could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Mr Thompson said he was “very disappointed” that only one Port Department official had replied to the proposal to-date. Prior to the meeting on the new port, no representative from that agency or the Ministry of Transport and Housing who was present said they had seen it.
This, he added, was despite it being sent to James Albury, former central and south Abaco MP, and ex-parliamentary secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office under the Minnis administration. Mr Thompson said it was subsequently sent to his successor as MP, John Pinder, on October 20, 2021, and also sent to JoBeth Coleby-Davis, minister of transport and housing, on August 31.
“They had not even heard of the project when I stood up in the meeting and advocated for it,” he added. “I said I would have a chat with the NGOs and other persons involved to see if they are still interested in moving forward. That’s when I reached out to Ken Hutton, and he said that for himself and them, it’s still a go-ahead.” Clay Sweeting, minister responsible for Family Island affairs, and Antoinette Thompson, permanent secretary in the transport ministry, were also said to have received copies.
The Memorial Garden and Community Park proposal, which has been seen by Tribune Business, pegs the total construction cost at $3.685m. The most expensive items would be the $900,000 amphitheatre; $850,000 for landscaping; and $800,000 associated with the cost of materials and construction for 20 vendor stalls.
“For the last 22 months the area formerly known as The Mudd in central Marsh Harbour has remained a fenced-in, overgrown and unmaintained plot of land unused and unusable by the community, unmarked and unremembered for the horror and tragedy that took place on September 1, 2019,” the proposal said.
“A group has come together to propose to rectify this situation by creating a vibrant community space where our people can gather in comfort and safety while remembering those who were taken from us by an historic hurricane named Dorian.
“The park would be maintained by a non-profit organisation through private donations and funds raised from hosting events and renting vendor stalls. Any excess revenue would be channelled back into the community via the non-profit.... All funding for the project would be provided through private sector donors and sponsors. No government funding is required.”
Donated funds would be managed by US-incorporated One Abaco Foundation and its Bahamian registered, certified affiliate, Abaco Resurrect Association. One Abaco was said to have formed a five-year partnership with the Guy Harvey Foundation that will see charitable events held locally to raise monies for ocean protection and other causes.
“Both entities are required to maintain fully transparent and accountable accounts for regulatory purposes by their respective governments,” the project proposal said. “It is envisioned that a local committee will be formed to decide on a design and plan for the site. The committee would include community leaders along with appropriate local and national government representatives, where necessary.
“A portion of the area has been set aside for likely use by the Marsh Harbour port department as the most likely location for a new port administration building and Customs warehouse. This area comprises approximately six acres directly facing the Marsh Harbour port.
“It is envisioned that the property of the project will be either granted to the Bahamian non-profit to keep in perpetuity as a community space, or be leased to the Bahamian non-profit for a 100-year term at $1 per year in order to maintain the space for the benefit of the Marsh Harbour community,” the proposal continued.
“It is estimated the property will directly employ up to ten persons, and indirectly up to 100 through rented vendor stalls. All revenues generated by use and tenants would be used to maintain the property, with any excess being donated to local Abaco causes as directed by the park board of directors. The board composition and members will be decided by the initial forming committee.”
Mrs Coleby-Davis, addressing last week’s Abaco Business Outlook conference, agreed that “very little action” has been taken to rebuild Marsh Harbour’s commercial shipping port - the main freight gateway into the island - in the three years since the facility was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. However, she said “more information will be shared with Abaconians in short order” on plans to develop a replacement via a public-private partnership (PPP).
“I wish to advise efforts to rebuild an efficient and secure port system are underway,” she promised. “A PPP was sought to create the performance dynamics of a modern port and develop quality infrastructure for every dollar invested.”