COMMENTARY BY BRADLEY ROBERTS
FORMER CABINET MINISTER AND MP
11 MARCH 2018
“I understand that they have some ferry services. Obviously, the Ministry of Works has to take it very seriously and see what we can do about creating a safe passage for people in that community.” So said Works Minister Desmond Bannister to the media in response to media reports that extreme inclement weather conditions have negatively impacted mobility on the island of Eleuthera, its economy and the residents’ general way of life.
This environmental, public infrastructure and socioeconomic nightmare gained national attention when video footage made the rounds on social media of water gushing across Queen’s Highway, eventually splitting the main Eleuthera artery in two at a location in an area popularly known as the sandpit.
As an aside and as for the Glass Window Bridge, the government has expressed concerns about its state and a long-term solution that Minister Bannister says could cost tax payers as much as $40 million, some seven hundred percent more than the $6 to $7 million quoted by coastal engineers to construct a causeway on the calm side of the bridge when I served as works Minister between 2002 and 2007. Bannister said the solution was not in the government’s current budget.
“The only thing we can do is look at the bridge and see whether it is structurally sound and if it is then we will do whatever we can to make it passable. The reality is the long-term solution to building a new bridge which could cost $30 to $40 million. Here in the capital where debris was pushed into the road due to extreme weather, the public works minister says teams are cleaning up.”
I am constrained to ask why the government would consider rebuilding the Glass Window Bridge when experts have advised the Bahamas government that its replacement cost is prohibitive and a causeway on the calm side of the bridge is more cost effective and would serve the same logistical and economic purposes for Eleuthera’s residents and its economy.
The Glass Window Bridge and its replacement cost aside, the Public Works Minister also told the media that engineers are analyzing and preparing a report on the circumstances surrounding and the root causes of these “shocking conditions,” particularly in one area just down from the bridge where the water has cut through the road almost eight feet deep, effectively impacting the mobility of the people in North Eleuthera.
We hope that in a spirit of honesty, open government, transparency and accountability, the good Minister will include the following information in the causal factors and root cause analysis section of the report. This exercise is necessary to ensure that no reoccurrence of this disaster takes place in the future:
The name of the company and owner/operator of the sandpit dredging operations will be very helpful and in the public interest to know. Additionally, the Minister will do well to ascertain whether the owner/operator was in possession of the requisite and valid government issued permits for this type of operations. Perhaps the erstwhile Member for North Eleuthera can assist the Works Minister and Prime Minister in sourcing this information.
In my view, there is value and utility in determining whether the excavation or mining of sand at the sand pit reached a depth of say 14 feet below the surface of the road in the vicinity of the sandpit and Queens Highway where the road was split in two. If this is so then the public could understand that the breach of the foundational support for the thoroughfare coupled with inclement weather and surf surges pounding at the foundation could compromise the integrity of the road’s foundation, causing a collapse and “wash away.” A watchful and diligent government oversight and regulatory agency would and should not allow that to happen and the duly signed and approved permit would clearly stipulate very strict operational parameters for the sand dredging.
The Minister of Works must be explicit with the Parliament and by extension the general public in stating whether or not the mining of sand and the operation of a sandpit in the area adjacent to Queens’s Highway contributed significantly and/or directly to the foundational collapse and erosion of the road’s foundational support, causing it to split in two by the sea.
The Minister of Works must inform the Honourable House and lay on the table a copy of the engineer’s report outlining the estimated cost for the re-construction or reinstatement of the road. Additionally, it will be interesting to know and see whether the Minister will hold the owner/operator of the sand pit dredging operation responsible and accountable for the destruction of nearby mangroves that this sandpit dredging operation has contributed to or directly caused.
Dr. Minnis, his cabinet colleagues and his parliamentary caucus have another huge opportunity to demonstrate to the Bahamian people and indeed the world just how transparent, open, honest and accountable they are as a government. They did a piss poor job with the Oban Energies deal but be thankful for second chances. Any government willing to go to the extent of using an obituary to name drop and to finger point should take much glee in this exercise. This engineer’s report must have a section in it on “political interference and abuse” because this Minnis led FNM government will have it no other way, just ask Ernst Young. The perpetrator (or perpetrators) must be held up to scorn and ridicule because this is the FNM way. We await with bated breath for Minister Bannister’s published engineer’s report on this Queen’s Highway debacle.