HIGH ROCK, Grand Bahama, The Bahamas — Cognizant of the long road still ahead for Grand Bahama in the restoration and rebuilding process post Hurricane Dorian, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation, the Hon. Chester Cooper met with residents in East Grand Bahama, the area worst hit, on Saturday, September 3, 2022 to hear their concerns and advise them of government’s immediate and long-term plans.
The community meeting was held at Emmanuel Baptist Church in High Rock, moments after the final wreath-laying ceremony for the Hurricane Dorian victims in that area.
The Deputy Prime Minister first apologized to the residents, on behalf of the Government of The Bahamas, for not having done more, fast enough to help them to restore their lives over the past three years.
With key persons in the room — Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, the Hon. Obie Wilchcombe, Minister for Grand Bahama, the Hon. Ginger Moxey, Minister of State for Social Services and Urban Development, Lisa Rahming, Chairman of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Alex Storr and area Member of Parliament Kwasi Thompson — Minister Cooper laid out those plans.
“The time for talking,” he declared, “is over.”
He said Minister Moxey had already set some of those plans in motion, but there is so much more to be done.
“Beautiful Grand Bahama is already making some impact, but the time for half-stepping on this project has passed,” he said. “We know that you lack critical government services and infrastructure, so as we speak we are moving to document specific needs [to bring support to] communities and we should have that assistance mobilized within weeks.”
He said the DRA will begin inspections this week on homes and the infrastructure works required for East Grand Bahama.
“The DRA has launched a new home-owner’s assistance relief program to deal with the needs, in terms of roof repair, windows and siding repair, as well as plumbing and electricals. With this program you’ll directly get the supplies you need through the DRA without the need for the old voucher system.
“Once this assessment is done, the Authority has given me the assurance that we will provide and procure the necessary building materials.”
With government’s commitment to move forward immediately with the necessary works in East Grand Bahama, the deputy prime minister acknowledged that it will require significant resources.
Government agencies on Grand Bahama, he said, are working work with the police, Local Government, the National Insurance Board (NIB), the Department of Social Services, BTC and the Post Office Services to ensure those plans are executed.
Another important aspect is schooling in the area and Deputy Prime Minster Cooper said it is unacceptable that, three years after Dorian, children from K-3 to Grade 9 are still being transported by bus to Freeport and those travelling from Sweeting’s Cay must also add a boat ride.
“The district superintendent and the technical team have identified adequate accommodations at the St. Cleveland Baptist Church in Free Town to host K-3 to Grade One. The accommodation is ready and can facilitate up to 30 students,” he said.
Minister Cooper further advised that plans are also in motion to have students in Grades two to nine return to the high School in High Rock in October, as the necessary repairs needed at that facility will take place over the next few weeks.
Additionally, the DPM was happy to report that the Police Station in McLean’s Town has been restored and both the clinics in McLean’s Town and High Rock have been opened.
It the next two weeks, NIB is expected to begin operating in East Grand Bahama two days a week, and government is finalizing residential accommodation for the Local Government Administrator in East Grand Bahama.
Discussions on the opening of the refurbished Post Office are underway; government is also working with BTC for the return of landline services to the communities of East Grand Bahama shortly, and will restore internet services to Free Town through its nationwide WiFi initiative. Residents also heard that government is sourcing partnership with local churches to enhance programs for the youth, and is in talks to have the navigational boating lights repositioned at McLean’s Town.
Minister Cooper further revealed that the Government of The Bahamas is in the process of regularizing Crown Land applications in High Rock and is entering the completion phase of the process for persons who have paid for their grants.
Government’s long-term plan over the next 18 to 24 months includes the construction of additional seawalls, a new administration complex, new schools to house all of the ages, a reverse osmosis plant to further the expansion of potable water, reconstruction of the landing docks at Sweeting’s Cay and North Water Cay and the expansion of the McLean’s Town Dock.