‘GIVE US MORE TIME’: Abaco needs three to five-year extension on recovery concessions, says Chamber head

‘GIVE US MORE TIME’: Abaco needs three to five-year extension on recovery concessions, says Chamber head
In this undated photo, technicians from the Abaco-based Six A’s Construction company prepare land for the Abaco Centre that will serve as a hurricane shelter and community center. (PHOTO: DRA)

“We can’t get anything done in six months”

Hutton says construction, housing and banking remain challenges to Hurricane Dorian recovery on Abaco

MARSH HARBOUR, ABACO — Abaco needs a three to five-year extension on concessions related to Hurricane Dorian recovery, according to its Chamber of Commerce president, Ken Hutton.

Hutton, who was addressing the 17th annual Abaco Business Outlook, noted that six-month extensions were problematic as residents were unable to properly plan and budget, adding: “Abaco needs extensions for three to five years because we can’t get anything done in six months.”

According to Hutton, COVID-related lockdowns and restrictions delayed the island’s recovery efforts by at least a year.

Abaco Chamber of Commerce President Ken Hutton.

“We are very pleased to hear that government has extended the concession for replacement vehicles. That is very important for us,” said Hutton.

“After the storm, people had to make a choice to replace their house or purchase a replacement vehicle.”

The Minnis administration in late 2019 declared the Abacos and the island of Grand Bahama special economic recovery zones to provide businesses and homeowners in the areas impacted by the deadly Category 5 Hurricane Dorian with a number of tax breaks and concessions.

The administration had also amended the Special Economic Recovery Zone (SERZ) order to allow for the tax-free provision of eligible vehicles landed in the designated areas before August 31.

According to Hutton, the Abaco Chamber has proposed a special economic zone for Abaco, similar to Freeport. He noted that the island needs more structured zoning laws for development as well as healthcare facilities that are fully functional and staffed.

He also noted that under the Minis administration, the Abaco Chamber was asked to put together a public-private partnership (PPP) proposal for the Abaco port. This, he noted, was submitted just two days prior to the September 16 General Election.

Hutton expressed hope that the Davis administration will assess the proposal as reconstruction of the Marsh Harbour port is “absolutely critical” for Abaco’s revival, though little has been done to date. 

 

Continued recovery challenges

Hutton noted that the labour shortage exacerbated by the lack of available housing for construction workers and COVID-related supply chain issues have proven to be huge barriers to the Hurricane Dorian rebuild effort.

Donald Rolle, island administrator for the Central Abaco and Hope Town district, noted that there has been a significant amount of applications for new home construction.

“Every council meeting, we have at least 30 to 40 applications for new home builders — not just Bahamians but foreigners, new home builders after Hurricane Dorian.”

The Abaco islands post-Hurricane Dorian. (PHOTO: PHILIPP HUBNER)

According to Rolle, many of the applications are from individuals who did not live on the island prior to Dorian. 

Hutton also estimated that in the Treasure Cay area, which has a significant second home population, close to 80 percent of those homes were severely damaged or destroyed.

He stressed that revising the second home market is critical to the economy of Abaco.

Pointing to the lack of available housing, he noted: “There is no housing. There is need for housing. Much of housing is still in disrepair.

“This affects businesses because they can’t hire persons because they have no place to live, and it is affecting schools as there is nowhere for teachers to live.”

Hutton also noted while there are currently three banks on Abaco, they are all located in Marsh Harbour, which presents a challenge for persons in the cays.

“That creates an added expense and security risk, particularly if you are a cash business. We need to secure some sort of banking in the Abaco cays,” said Hutton.