A three-hour meeting of the Central Abaco District Council on September 6, 2018, began with a bio-mass energy presentation by Jimmy Vaughan. That was followed by the three town committee chairmen of Central Abaco voicing complaints and opinions to invited guests MP James Albury of Central and South Abaco and MP Darren Henfield of North Abaco.
To ensure that the heads of several government departments heard the complaints, about ten department managers were present to answer questions. Some of the departments represented were the Police, Works, Environmental Health, Bahamas Power and Light, Water and Sewerage, Education, Social Services, and others.
The biomass energy proposal would utilize about 5,000 acres of farm land south of Spring City for elephant grass production. This fast-growing, invasive grass is a distant relative of corn and has established itself in local farm areas. The concept is to harvest the 8-foot to 10-foot tall grass three times a year and burn it as fuel for steam turbines. The new proposed energy company, Spring City Power, and the plant would be in the vicinity of Spring City. Electricity would be sold wholesale to Bahamas Power and Light for distribution and sale. The presentation to Council members was to present the concept and get Council’s support for the project. Those attending appeared satisfied.
The meeting was chaired by George Cornish, Chief Councillor of the Central Abaco District. After the biomass presentation were queries by the three town committee chairmen, Roscoe Thompson of Marsh Harbour-Spring City, Faron Newbold of Dundas Town and Gilbert Davis of Murphy Town. They spoke about issues they have with managing their town affairs and the lack of cooperation received from government agencies. Questions were answered mostly by senior MP Darren Henfield or by various department managers.
A repetitious complaint was the lack of cooperation or acknowledgment to area problems by government agencies. In turn, government department managers repeatedly expressed lack of funding, lack of staff and lack of support from their Nassau superiors.
One topic was the problem of vehicles speeding through school zones, residential areas and through Marsh Harbour to the ferry landing. The Marsh Harbour Town Committee authorized speed bumps years ago but has been unable to get Works to install the bumps. The police mentioned than speed bumps on main roads are not tolerated well by the public and suggested other speed-calming measures without being specific. Police were asked why a private school gets a police car parked outside while a much larger public school is not given this attention.
Government’s single Road Traffic officer has been moved from duties at the airport to managerial duties at the Road Traffic office. It was asked how the six Road Traffic office staff that are no longer there can be replaced by a single officer as there is no one to manage unruly traffic at the airport terminal. It was said that some taxi drivers are particularly aggressive and an embarrassment when in the presence of arriving visitors.
Abandoned and derelict vehicles were a common concern along with appropriate methods for demolishing derelict buildings. Although local government may have the authority to clean up their town areas, they are given little legal advice on the protocols required.
Murphy Town and Dundas Town members complained of the foul odors that emanate from the old dump site on S.C. Bootle Highway with west winds. This is due to the sludge pond there for septic tank disposal. There were no decisions made.
Six vacant, abandoned or derelict government buildings in Marsh Harbour were brought to both MP’s attention without comment. Additional government buildings are in the other towns.
Cleaning refuse along the highway from Marsh Harbour to the dump is a constant expense. The multi-million-dollar landfill has degenerated into a common dump.
It was asked why the new government clinic closes at 3 p.m. A complaint about fire hydrants not working brought forth finger pointing between Works which maintains hydrants and Water and Sewerage which installs fire hydrants. The indifference and lack of cooperation between government agencies was brought out when the manager of the water company mentioned a hydrant across from a police station that was regularly used by the public for washing cars without anyone bringing this to the attention of the water company.
Marsh Harbour is looking for alternate sites for the Saturday night concerts frequently held at the BAIC park. These concerts often continue until 4 a.m. to the annoyance of neighbouring residents.
Three staff members were assigned to clean the old and abandoned airport terminal described as a “chicken coop.” The airport is now served by a 10,000 square-foot terminal with the same three over-worked cleaning staff. This was said to be another example of central government’s lack of concern and indifference to local problems.
Both MP’s were asked why applications for Crown Land are ignored by the Prime Minister’s office. They also asked why the applications are forwarded to local government council for approval when they have no authority over such applications.
Concerning Crown Land grants, Mr. Henfield stated that an audit is underway of all Crown Land leases to ascertain if the land is being used as approved, if lease payments are being made and if improvements are consistent with the size of the acreage requested. Farm land has been found with apartments and other commercial buildings. Crown Land requests are being held pending outcome of the audit.
Throughout the three-hour session, MP Henfield emphasized the need for more cooperation between government agencies and local government authority. It is not clear what may come of the complaints but Mr. Henfield was adamant that he will delve into the various issues with Nassau authorities. Due to his many years as an officer in the Defence Force, he has had many encounters with government agencies and appeared comfortable in seeking better cooperation among the different players.
Although new to government’s labyrinth of agencies, responsibilities and regulations, MP James Albury also expressed a desire to see more interplay and cooperation between local government and various government departments.