Works and Utilities Minister the Hon. Alfred Sears is appealing to persons responsible for unregulated construction of buildings in the Blackwood community of north Eleuthera to cease.
Minister Sears, whose purview includes infrastructure, building control and town planning, along with a team of officials from his Ministry, toured the community on Thursday, September 22nd, 2022 during an infrastructural assessment visit to North Eleuthera. Also on the walking tour were: island administrators, representatives of the Commonage Committee, Local Government representatives, members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and other government agencies.
Said Minister Sears, “We have toured the area and will be having our Building Control, with other government agencies, work closely with the Commonage Committee of Spanish wells, the owner of that area, and meet with stakeholders so we can address the issue and ensure first of all that we will put a stop to any further unregulated construction and regularize the construction that has been done. We will be meeting with the Commonage Committee and will be announcing shortly the way forward.
“Those homes would have been built without building control, town planning and without any inspection to ensure compliance with the building code.
“In light of what has happened in Grand Bahama and Abaco during Hurricane Dorian in 2019, we are fearful on a number of grounds. We have spoken with the Commonage Committee; they have not given permission to build on the property and our Building Control officers have indicated that no applications were made, no inspections were made. We see electrical connections which appear to be irregular and therefore it is incumbent upon me as the minister responsible under the Building Control Regulation and the Planning and Subdivision Act to ensure that a proper and full investigation is done.”
Minister Sears thanked George Sweeting, Chairman of the Spanish Wells Commonage Committee and Chief Councilor Robert Roberts, who led the tour; and he expressed emphatically that throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas the government will not tolerate unregulated construction.
“It is a danger to the people themselves, to the community and of course we have to uphold the rule of law. As we build we have to build with resilience because we saw what happened in Abaco and East Grand Bahama.
“We will call for a meeting with all of the stakeholders and we will resolve this matter in accordance with the law. We recognize that we are dealing with communities. These issues require a multidimensional response, which we will do.
“I am asking all of the persons in Blackwood to cease any further construction; failing which we will have no choice but to actively enforce the law.
“We would like to go through a process of notice which the law requires before any demolition. We would like to engage because children are involved [and] we need to ascertain who the people are. We want to have everybody come forth and for us to see if it is possible to get people regularized but we cannot afford and we would not tolerate unpermitted construction of this magnitude because the people in the community are at risk. We saw what happened in The Mudd and we saw what happened in Pigeon Pea. We cannot allow a situation to become a mass disaster; plus we have to be compliant with the law.”
Minister Sears informed that the Building Control Unit has already submitted a report and Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) and the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) will be asked to do likewise.
“We are in the middle of a hurricane season so it’s a matter of extreme urgency because this community is at risk. Also, we have to make sure we are apprised of all of the relevant factors so that an effective and humane solution can be implemented.”
Chairman Sweeting said, “When we reformed the Commonage Committee in 2018 we met the problem. From 2019 to the present it has exploded. From 2019 we have documented photographic evidence of 168 either new additions or new homes being built – all without any permission of the Commonage Committee. The total amount of photographic evidence from 2018 to present is almost 400. We have reports of them starting a home at 2 o’clock in the morning and moving in 6 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Town Planning Committee Chairman Keenan Johnson said, “It’s up for us to go to the discussion table and make a decision that’s based on the law and based on a humane approach. It’s about helping them as well – it’s not just about enforcing laws; it’s about helping the people here to ensure they are safe and these structures that are being built illegally are not safe.”
Minister Sears was primarily in Eleuthera to view public infrastructure and participate in a Town Meeting to discuss and address planning issues related to the proposed replacement of the Glass Window Bridge on the island.
By Kathryn Campbell
(BIS Photos/Ulric Woodside)