• 18-month costal protection work to safeguard 150 jobs
• New designs readied to stop breakwaters’ ‘total failure’
• Restoration of storm surge, wave defence is ‘big deal’
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Nassau harbour’s breakwaters will suffer “total failure” if not repaired, it was revealed yesterday, with additional shoreline protection works required to protect Junkanoo Beach’s $8.2m impact and 150 jobs.
Alexio Brown, assistant environmental specialist with the Ministry of Works and Family Island Affairs unit formed to tackle the harbour’s issues, told Tribune Business that coastal protection works focused on Junkanoo Beach and Long Wharf are due to start in the 2024 first quarter and last for 18 months.
Replying to this newspaper’s written questions, he said the “highly stressed” area between Arawak Cay and The Pointe complex generates “high economic value” for both the Bahamian tourism product and the vendors that use it, thus requiring that its erosion be reversed.
Besides the 150 direct, indirect and induced jobs that rely on Junkanoo Beach, Mr Brown said economic impact assessments have estimated that such employment injects $4.4m in gross value added (GVA) into the Bahamian economy every year. And a further $4.5m annual impact is felt from the 275 hotel jobs supported by the beach, which include 68 “net additional” posts.
And, describing the two Nassau harbour breakwaters as “a big deal”, due to the protection they provide against storm surge and large waves for assets such as the Arawak Cay commercial shipping port, he added that the necessary studies for their repair are now “substantially complete” and designs for their rebuilding are being “finalised”.
“Repairs to the breakwaters provide protection at the entrance [to] Nassau harbour, and if nothing is done the state of the structures will continue to worsen and can lead to total failure,” Mr Brown said. However, their deterioration has not been identified as the primary cause of the erosion at Junkanoo Beach and Long Wharf.
“Other findings show that the damage to the breakwaters did not contribute to the erosion being seen along the beach shoreline and at the Long wharf seawall. To address the erosion along the beach, shoreline protection works will be necessary and may include groynes and beach nourishment along the shoreline. Ecologically the area is highly stressed due to past dredging works and other activities in the area,” Mr Brown said.
Pointing to the economic benefits to be gained from protecting this area, he added: “Junkanoo Beach has a high economic value to our tourism product and vendors that utilise the beach. The total number of jobs supported at Junkanoo Beach and Long Wharf (direct, indirect and induced jobs) is estimated at 150 as a result of our social baseline study. This supports approximately $4.4m GVA per annum.
“The economic impact from the hotels supported by Junkanoo Beach is estimated at $4.5m per annum as a result of the [estimated] 275 jobs supported, of which 68 are net additional jobs, as a result of our findings.
“The benefit of Junkanoo Beach to both locals and international tourists is estimated at $8.2m per annum..... The work at Junkanoo Beach [and] Long Wharf is estimated at 18 months for completion, and is projected to start within the first quarter of 2024.”
Mr Brown said around “50 percent” of the financing for the Junkanoo Beach and Long Wharf works has been obtained from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan intended to fund upgrades to coastal infrastructure and its management so it is better positioned to withstand climate change’s impact.
As for the two harbour breakwaters, he added that some eight different studies on their condition and repairs have been conducted, including nearshore wave and shoreline assessments, engineering designs and physical modelling, along with a variety of environmental-related reviews.
“Assessments have been conducted and are substantially complete. Designs are being finalised for construction,” Mr Brown said. “At the eastern breakwater, the base or root of the breakwater has been undermined by hurricanes and storms over the past decade. Repairs are needed to the portion of the breakwater facing Arawak Cay, and the structure will need to be embedded into the nearby headland.
“At the western breakwater, there will be patch repairs at the most vulnerable portions of the breakwater. At these locations the concrete units - called Tribars - will be examined for structural integrity. Those that are in good condition will be reused. Units in poor condition will be crushed, remade and then reused.....
“These breakwaters reduce/ break wave energy from the powerful ocean waves that enter into the shipping channel, allowing large cargo and cruise ships to enter and exit Nassau Harbor safely. It is necessary to invest the time and resources into the studies that have been done to ensure the appropriate design and repairs are option. These breakwaters are a big deal.”
A workshop involving multiple government agencies and Nassau harbour stakeholders was held at the Margaritaville resort on October 27, 2023, to review the present situation and progress on the proposed remediation plan.
“The Department of Environmental Planning and Protection, NEMA, the Office of the Prime Minister and others were invited to share the results of the studies that were conducted, the preliminary design options and modelling of those options from previous stakeholder engagements, and the next course of actions ahead of the construction phase,” Mr Browns said.
“It was also an opportunity for more feedback from stakeholders to give their input and voice concerns if any.” Private sector entities present included Nassau Cruise Port, Arawak Port Development Company (APD), the Nassau Container Port operator and nearby hotels, along with the Port Department and Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation.
Dion Bethell, Arawak Port Development Company’s (APD) president and chief financial officer, told Tribune Business earlier this week that repairs to the harbour’s breakwaters are becoming ever-more urgent with “interruptions” to the unloading of cargo vessels “increasing” in recent months.
While services have typically been disrupted twice a year by high seas this has escalated to the point where, over the past four months, cargo operations have been disrupted on eight to ten days. “Our other concern, and the new minister of works [Clay Sweeting] had some consultations on this last week, is on repairs to the breakwater,” Mr Bethell told this newspaper.
“At the meeting last week we think everything is moving in a positive direction. We await patiently to see what the next steps are.” He told Tribune Business, though, that the continued deterioration of the breakwaters - especially the one directly in front of APD’s facilities - is making the need for repairs increasingly urgent.
“It’s reaching that point where, in prior years, where we may have had interruptions in service twice a year with great swells, in recent times, the last four months, we’ve maybe had eight to ten days where it’d made operating and working a vessel extremely difficult,” Mr Bethell explained.
“So much so that, at King tide, with prevailing winds and bad weather, we’ve had to ask some of the vessels to leave the berth until the weather calms down, so it’s increasing.” Mr Bethell said that, based on what was communicated in the recent meeting with Ministry of Works officials, “we remain very hopeful... things will manifest by way of repairs to the breakwaters”.